September 3, 2021

Golf and Business Are Not a Game of Perfect


I’m not a particularly good golfer. At times, my golf game has been downright horrible. And yet I have kept coming back to the game over the years, trying to improve, seeking that magical connection with the club and the reward of getting better. I took up the game too late (I blame my father, who was more of a rugby guy) and as such only started in my mid-20’s. My first 6 months, I hit 8,000 golf balls, practiced multiple times per week and spent endless amounts on lessons and gear. Eventually, my handicap fell (this is a good thing), I started to improve and I fell in love with the game.

Fast forward 15 years, and I am still slightly above average at the driving range, thinking I’ve figured something out only to have it all fall apart on the golf course later. Sound familiar? This game is something of a mystery, both rewarding and infinitely difficult, both beautiful and infuriating. It’s the only sport I’ve ever played where practicing often can actually make you worse! And yet, we keep returning to it.

Spending as much time as I have thinking about both my golf game and my professional life, I’ve come to realize a number of similarities in both. In my first few years of playing I came across Dr. Bob Rotella’s book – Golf is Not a Game of Perfect – which I was reflecting on recently. So much in life adheres to this simple principle. Golf and Business are not a game of perfect, and trying to play it that way can result in dire consequences (which I’ll get to).

There is beauty in the struggle, and in the surrender to imperfection true performance lies. By understanding our limitations, and realizing that high performance and not perfection is the goal, we might achieve more. I’ve highlighted a few parts of Rotella’s theories that I think are particularly pertinent to me.

Attitude plays a large part in success

This may seem obvious, but attitude is essential on and off the golf course. We’re going to have good and bad days, but a positive attitude is what will keep you moving forward and staying motivated.

Rotella says, “Golfing potential depends primarily on a player’s attitude, on how well he plays with the wedges and the putter, and on how well he thinks.”

The same applies to business. How you present yourself in front of your colleagues and team members is a key part of building a supportive and positive culture. Coming in with a hand-raised and a smile will go a long way. As Rotella says, “attitude would always win out over ability.” 

One of the best pieces of CEO advice I ever received was, “People don’t remember what you say, they remember how you made them feel.” As a CEO you are not only the leader of the business, you are its chief cheerleader. Your attitude sets the tone for the entire organization. Think about how you show up, because it has a real influence.

Proper planning prevents poor performance

Rotella writes when he’s planning, he mentally reviews each hole of a golf course backwards. Having a “roadmap” of each hole allows golfers to have an idea of what to do, and what not to do while identifying key parts or hazards (such as bunkers, trees and water).

In business, while you may not be able to see everything that comes your way, trying to work backwards when answering the question, “What are we trying to accomplish?” Can help identify some key items that you may not have seen on your roadmap when initially planning, and ensure you and your team are aligned. 

We try to plan 5 or more years out within the first couple of months of owning a business. If you don’t have a clear picture of where you are going, and aren’t aligned around that goal, you’re never going to properly execute. One of the biggest mistakes golfers make is not having a plan for your shot. 

Once, after a particularly poor swing, my playing partner asked me what I was trying to do. I realized I had no answer since I had simply picked a club, hoped for the best and swung towards the hole. No surprise that the ball ended up in the water on the right.

Embrace the challenges, learn from the outcomes

When golfing, there’s a plethora of adversity you can face: wind, rough grass, trees, sand and water (one I’m trying to disassociate from). When you (unfortunately) land in or near one of these, whining and throwing your hands up in the air won’t do you much good. 

The same applies in business – how you approach these roadblocks can be a determining factor in driving success, and also for improvement overall. While you can’t force certain results to happen, the best you can do is to do all the other things right which will influence the overall outcome you are trying to achieve. If it happens, great! If it doesn’t, revise and improve.

In another one of my favorite golf books “Zen Golf”, Joseph Parent advises golfers to exclaim “how fascinating!” After hitting a poor shot. Not “how terrible”, or “I’m awful” but “how fascinating”. This allows the golfer to make the mental adjustment of watching the shot and trying to learn something from it. We’ve adopted this mindset within our companies. Whenever we face a setback or an unexpected finding, we say “how fascinating!” It reserves our judgement and opens our mind to learn from the situation.

Understand you can’t be perfect every time

The next time you’re on the golf course, planning to start or stepping back into the office, apply some or all of these practices and go in with less stress and more self-appreciation. Growing and leading a business is mentally and physically taxing, and you don’t always have to shoot for the hole-in-one. Sometimes in business, making a decision (any decision) and having the confidence to execute it, is the right move. 

Trust in yourself, the planning you’ve done with your team and your instincts. While there will be challenges that come along the way, embrace the journey and don’t think and swing at the same time.

Give it a try and let me know what you think. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us.

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