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The Golf Course vs. the Board Room
Will What Works on the Golf Course Work in the Business World?
By Anne Marie Goslak


Many years ago, one of my younger students called in a panic. "Coach, what do I DO? I just found out I am paired to play against my best friend in the whole world tomorrow! I want to win, but I don?t want to hurt his feelings or make him mad."

I gave this kid the best advice I could. "The best thing you can do for your friend is beat him by as many strokes as possible. You see, when a person loses, they have two choices. They can pout and react negatively to the defeat, or they can use it as a teachable moment. They can figure out what they need to work on next to make sure it does not happen again. To play your best is to raise the bar and encourage others to do the same. Playing down, hiding your talent, or limiting your margin for victory only weakens the field in the long run. It especially weakens you."

As I got off the phone, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and called out, "Hypocrite!" Just a few weeks before this incident, I found myself in hot water while working on a group project. Apparently, I had made others feel bad because of my "over-achieving nature." I was asked to consider "softening things" or "lessening my output to make others feel better about their contribution to the project."

One woman went as far as to advise, "Darlin?, if you want to succeed in this man?s world, you are going to have to learn to be more demure. Let them think it?s their idea and then just agree with them. You?ll get more bees with honey than you will with vinegar."

I actually tried to take that advice. I lasted less than a week. I could not stand the "new me." I realized I am a 21st century woman of independent means. Why, then, do I feel as if I have to throttle back to avoid hurting other people?s feelings? As with most things in my life, the answer could be found on the golf course.

In a competitive situation, it is my duty to do my best. To hold back would be an insult to my competitor as well as to my God, who gave me the talent.

Was it the same thing in a business setting? I decided to find out. I challenged the group with a question. "The way I see it, the question should not be, 'Why is Anne Marie doing so much?' The question should be, 'Why am I not doing more?'"

After probing deeper, it seems they had ALL been playing it safe. Much like my little junior golfer friend, they were concerned about hurting other people?s feelings, so they decreased their involvement. They had gotten used to "accepting the bare minimum."

I wanted more than "acceptable." I wanted excellence! As it turned out, they did, too. After much discussion, we worked harder and ultimately raised the bar for the entire group. It inspired other groups to do the same. In the end, the project was a great success. I learned a valuable lesson that year. It was not about winning or losing. It was about doing my best.

What happened to the young boy, you ask? He won by 12 strokes the first time he faced his friend. The following month, he lost by 2. The two boys bantered back and forth for a number of years, until they both accepted golf scholarships to colleges.

Excellence is contagious. Play your best. Do your best. It will inspire others to do the same. Playing down, hiding your talent, or limiting your margin for victory only weakens the field in the long run.

-Anne Marie Goslak