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A Look at the Impact of Emotions in the World's Great Golfers and Leaders
by John Haime


There are extraordinary leaders and golfers in the world and generally the differences between them are unrecognizable. Just have a look at the skills on the practice tee at a major professional golf event. All of the players strike the ball brilliantly; all have command of what they're doing. And watch the players at the practice green, they all sink putt after putt and seem in complete control. So then, what makes one golfer win major championships and one fail to consistently make the cut?

Similarly, if CEOs from the world's top companies gathered and addressed an audience, could you distinguish which ones "make the cut" from which ones create resonant cultures and consistent profits?

In both golf and leadership, only when the "players" are under pressure in a dynamic, changing environment can we separate the contenders from the pretenders.

So, what is the framework for a contender that can help you become a better leader or golfer?

Let's compare a couple of top golfers and leaders to highlight some differences.

The emergence of Phil Mickelson as a major championship winner in 2004 is a great example of how emotional intelligence can impact performance. Mickelson has been one of golf's most consistent money winners for the past 10 years. An extremely talented golfer physically, he's achieved a nice balance between life on tour and life at home. He has an excellent ability to focus on the task, control the many distractions on tour, visualize what he wants to do and attain a high level of achievement.

The only real knock against Phil was how his overly aggressive style hindered him from winning "the big ones"; where the margin for error shrinks because of tough conditions and added pressures. The inability to adapt his style to the conditions contributed to a 0-46 record in major championships.

Meet the new Phil Mickelson.

After a 12-year dry spell in major championships, Phil won his first major in 2004 - The Masters Tournament. And he didn't win it because it was simply his time to win one. He developed a plan.

As a result of assessing where he was, the risk-taking, stubborn Phil has been recently replaced by the self-aware, flexible Phil managing his game to maximize his strengths. Mickelson has taken a more vigilant approach to the long game, strategizing to keep his golf ball in play - complementing one of the world's best short games. There's a plan and vision for where he wants to go. The plan includes a team of coaches to give feedback and help prepare him for major championships. The new Phil is not only self-aware, but managing his game - and the self-aware approach is delivering confidence….and results.

Phil can teach us all that ongoing assessment of our capabilities, and adapting our behavior to the situation, can help us maximize our performance and reach new levels.

PGA Tour player John Daly is talented too. He has power and touch. He can block out the distractions of professional golf and focus on the task at hand. He's proven it by winning two major championships. But the difference between Phil and John is John's inability to sustain performance over a long period. While he has seen the top of the mountain, his inability to control his emotions has kept him in deep valleys and prevented him from being a consistent contender.

Consider a couple of examples where Daly's lack of emotional control kept him off the leaderboard…..and out of the tournament.

The most famous of his outbursts was in the 1999 U.S. Open, where he was unhappy with the hole positions set by the United States Golf Association. On the 8th hole on the final day, John hit a short shot onto the green. The ball stopped and then began rolling back down the hill towards him. He was so upset the ball did not stay on the green that he angrily smashed the ball one-handed across the green. He proceeded to finish the hole with an 11 and an eventual 83 on the day. He stated that he was upset with the United States Golf Association for setting the holes in difficult positions. He ruined his chances for a good finish in the tournament for something totally out of his control.

In the 3rd round of the 1997 PGA Championship, Daly tossed his driver over a fence on the 12th hole after a poor tee shot. The following day (the final round), he got into an argument with a rules official to complete his self-destruction.

What can Daly's approach to these situations teach us?

In order to sustain top performance, it is key to focus on only those things we can control and not on those out of our control. Staying composed, optimistic and positive leads to a consistent performance.

No discussion on emotions in golf is complete without mention of golf's greatest performers - Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam. These extraordinary players have sustained elite performance under great pressures over a long period.

Woods holds an incredible streak of making 130 professional 36-hole cuts on the PGA Tour (the next closest is 24) and retained the #1 player in the world position for 332 weeks (a record). Fijian Vijay Singh recently passed Woods after Singh's incredible streak in 2003 and 2004. Sorenstam has dominated the LPGA Tour in recent years and, in 2003, under an intense media spotlight, successfully competed in the Bank of America Colonial - a PGA Tour event. Both players have a long list of accomplishments to highlight their ability to sustain performance over time.

While Woods and Sorenstam share a number of emotional competency strengths including self-awareness and adaptability, the competency that most contributes to their sustainability is their achievement drive or appetite for excellence each time they play. Unlike John Daly, Tiger and Annika optimistically focus on what they can do regardless of what has happened. They always believe that they will succeed, whether they are playing well or struggling with their game.

This is a great lesson for all of us. Focusing only on those things we can control with an optimistic, self-confident attitude, leads to consistent performance.

Bill George stayed at the top of the leaderboard for 12 years. Not in golf, but as CEO of Medtronic Inc., a manufacturer of medical technology. During his leadership, the company's sales soared from $740 million when he joined the company, to $7 billion when he retired.

He credits self-awareness as the basis of his successful leadership. In fact, he has worked on self-awareness from his days in college, when he worked on personality flaws with the advice of college friends, to today, where he regularly meditates.

George demonstrated at Medtronic that people-focused, customer-driven organizations could have it both ways. His company was ranked by Fortune Magazine as #1 for "Long-term Shareholder Value" and routinely appeared on Fortune's annual "100 Best Companies to Work For" list.

In a talk to Stanford's Graduate School of Business in April 2004, Bill called for a new kind of leader to emerge, one who checks his/her ego at the door and maintains an attitude of serving others. "If you do that well, you'll have people follow you to the ends of the earth, buying your products and services, and investing in your company." He also insisted that leadership training must include not just instruction about technical business skills, but also teaching about human behavior.

And Medtronic thrives to this day without him. George's final achievement at Medtronic was a seamless succession plan guaranteeing long-term health and security for shareholders, employees and customers.

What can we learn from Bill George and his great successes at Medtronic? Like the great, consistent golfers, a self-aware leader has a plan for long-term, sustainable growth by placing the primary emphasis on delivering value to the customer. Self-aware leaders create resonant cultures.

Like John Daly, the talented Michael Eisner has seen the top of the mountain in his early days at Disney, but the company has struggled to maintain growth and keep shareholders happy. And many point to Eisner for the troubles.

Unlike Phil Mickelson, who assessed the both the "state of his game" and his strengths and limits, Eisner has avoided on-going assessment by surrounding himself with associates who fail to criticize his actions or choices - restricting his growth as a leader. This lack of self-awareness has created a blind spot in Eisner's perception of how he is affecting others in the organization.

This lack in Eisner's emotional growth has led Disney down a negative road that peaked in a shareholders meeting in 2003, where board members Stanley Gold and Walt Disney's nephew, Roy, resigned from the Disney Board citing Eisner's leadership as the reasons for exiting. They highlighted Eisner's desire for personal gain (he cashed $700 million in shareholder value over a five year period), his short-term financial vision, and his cannibalization of company icons as their reasons for resigning.

And beyond Eisner's tenure, the future is uncertain at Disney. Unlike George, Eisner was not focused on a succession plan and transfer of vision to a new leader until he was forced to resign in September 2004.

What can we learn about leadership from Eisner's approach at Disney? Unlike George, Eisner's blind spot in self-awareness has inhibited Disney from sustainable growth and contributed to a state of dissonance. While it appears George has put Medtronic solidly on the leaderboard for years to come, Eisner may have forced Disney to struggle to make the cut in the long-term.

The issue of consistency and sustainability is a significant one in golf and leadership. A solid, fundamental base of Emotional Intelligence can help you achieve long-term success - be it consistent scoring or consistent performance and profits. It's easy to be good some of the time, but the key is to be good most of the time……like Phil, Tiger, Annika and Bill. As the greatest golfer of all-time, Jack Nicklaus has stated, "you're only as good as your worst round."

You may not have the experience and technical prowess of a PGA Tour player or CEO, but understanding what the greats do can help you reach your potential. An awareness and knowledge of Emotional Intelligence can… and will… take you to the next level if you make it a part of your routine.

Wouldn't it be great to be a consistent golfer? Wouldn't you like to truly enjoy the game and not carry forward lousy shots and lousy rounds? Wouldn't it help you to be a more patient, less frustrated golfer or leader - even when you do have a string of bad shots, bad rounds or difficult decisions? Wouldn't it be great to hit all of your targets and have your team working as one? Wouldn't you like to be "in the zone" more often that you're out of it?

The outstanding leaders and golfers are self-aware and able to manage emotion to their advantage. They confidently adapt their strengths and limits to changing conditions to make clear, accurate decisions. They have skill in the key emotional competencies that leads to consistency and sustainability. You can acquire this skill too. Unlike IQ, "EQ" can be developed as demonstrated by the extraordinary performances of Bill George and Phil Mickelson.


The Author


John Haime is President of LearningLinks Inc. and a former World Tournament Professional Golfer. LearningLinks adds value to corporate initiatives through the game of golf. The company's "Mastering the Game" program is an industry leader in experiential emotional intelligence education and has been delivered for some of the world's top organizations. Visit for additional information and Mastering the Game for the path to the next level of leadership.

Many more articles in Emotional Intelligence in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2006 by John Haime. All rights reserved.

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