I very recently had the pleasure of spending the first week of May as both a volunteer and spectator at the Wells Fargo Championship.
In my role as spectator, I got to watch many of the best golfers in the world do their thing. In my role as volunteer, I worked at the Practice Tee, where we had various tasks to complete: picking up balls from the range, then sorting and bagging them so players could use them to practice; setting out players’ name plates; and responding to different player and caddy questions.
The variety made the work fun, as it kept all the volunteers moving around the practice facility, which also put us near the players. Some of the players - Phil Mickelson, for one - brought along his coach to the practice tee, and I watched him give Phil feedback after each shot.
Many players had different practice aids designed to give them immediate feedback on their performance. One pro golfer held a balloon between his forearms while he hit balls to prevent his arms from separating during his swing.
Several of the players used guides, trays or tees to practice a straight and consistently rhythmic putting stroke. It reminded me a little of that football helmet device Rene Russo gave Kevin Costner in the movie, “Tin Cup.” Ok, not really but if a tool or aid works, golfers seem willing to endure it!
The most high-tech gadget used by over half the players is something called TrackMan, which has an estimated retail price of $25,000. About the size of a laptop, the device, when positioned behind the golfer, can record the arc, speed distance and loads more data on every swing. You can replay your performance on TrackMan, an iPad or even your cell phone.
To be sure, these devices are all helpful, but having a coach also show and tell a player about his performance is crucial. The feedback is generally about doing more of this and less of this - Keep your arm straighter. Don’t slide into the ball. Cup your wrist more. Accelerate through your putt. Take a shorter backstroke.
The instruction and input I heard players receive on the practice tee certainly improved their ability to execute in the practice environment, and many of the players could take the direction and instruction they received in practice and execute it on the course.
One of the players I really admire is Patrick Reed. He is a wonderful ball striker and played superbly until a point midway through the final round. One of the announcers said, “Golf is a game of awareness and the ability to adjust.” I considered that statement, and it made me think about the differences in coaching sports and my work as a coach to senior managers.
Recently, I returned from working with a group of senior leaders on their development. These leaders have all been told they are high-potential. The senior-most boss told them that to be promotable, they need to have identified and developed their successor.
The leadership approach most needed when developing leaders is coaching. Why? Because with a coaching style, you are helping guide someone toward finding the answer, not providing the answer. This type of coaching is fundamentally different than PGA, Major League Baseball or National Football League coaching.
In business, coaching is the leadership style I see least often . By coaching, I mean being non-directive and Socratic, and raising questions. For example, a coaching leader would ask things like: What have you tried?; How has that worked?; Did any part of the approach work? Which part?; Why do you think that was?; What else can you do?; and What have you learned so far?
While a coaching leader might already know the answer and want to tell the person what to do, that would violate the spirit of this approach. The coach would have to think of a question they could ask that would steer the person closer to discovering the answer for themselves.
So, is one approach right and the other wrong? I don’t think so.
The objectives are different. A sports coach is looking for imitation and compliance, so too much thinking by the player would get in the way of skill demonstration. A coach in a business setting is trying to build repeatable and sustainable capability in his or her absence. The person being coached is guided toward what to do, not told. That is a crucial difference, since there is a greater likelihood that a well-coached business leader who runs into difficulty on the back nine of their responsibilities will be able to independently adjust and solve the problem.
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