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Spiraling INTO Control - The Path to
Consistent Performance

by John Haime


"If he can control his emotions today ... he can win this tournament."

While I'm not sure how many times I've heard an announcer say this before the final round of a professional golf event, I am absolutely sure it is a central and recurring theme. However, while the importance of controlling emotions in attaining success is repeatedly stressed, the notion of "controlling", and the manner by which it might be achieved, is rarely expounded upon. If controlling emotions is so key to winning, shouldn't someone explain HOW to do it - so we can all perform at a higher level?

Here's a challenge for you …

Visit a major professional golf event on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday and you tell me which players will be successful in the event and which players will be packing their bags and heading home after Friday's 36-hole cut.

While you're at it, visit a conference where CEOs from a wide range of organizations are addressing an audience and tell me which CEOs are leading highly successful companies and which CEOs are leading companies that are just "making the cut".

This little challenge will highlight one thing for you - unless the golfers/leaders are under pressure in a dynamic, changing environment, you cannot separate the contenders from the pretenders. The separation occurs when the heat is turned up, when results really matter, when the performer is pushed to his/her limits; at that point one determines if they can be a consistent and sustainable performer.

"Tennis, running, and golf: depending on whether I want
to abuse my elbows, my knees, or my emotions."

Phil Knight, Chairman, President and CEO of Nike Inc.
when asked about his passions outside of work

The ability to manage emotions under life's pressures is the key element in separating elite performers from average ones. We all experience life's emotional spiral, and it's how we fight our way to the top of the spiral that determines our degree of success.

Any if you need more evidence ... golf's greatest performer, Tiger Woods, has consistently reminded us in media conferences following major championships that managing emotion is a key to his success in major tournaments.

Before I give you some suggestions on how you might move to the next level of performance, let's look at a few examples of golfers and leaders who highlight degrees of emotional competency.

The Light Bulb Goes on for Mickelson

Phil Mickelson competed for years before he won a major championship(0-46). Why? He's really talented physically. He's mentally capable of winning golf tournaments - he's won many over that time period. The only real knock against Mr. Mickelson was that his seat of the pants style hindered him from winning the big one, because his overly aggressive style was not rewarded in the "majors".

Before the 2004 season, Mickelson did a thorough assessment of where he was and where he wanted to go. Recognizing his style needed change in the big events, he and his coaching group assessed exactly what they needed to do to get to the next level. The risk-taking, stubborn Mickelson was replaced by the self-aware, flexible Phil managing his game to maximize strengths. He now has a more vigilant approach to the long game, strategizing to keep his ball in play to complement one of the world's best short games. This self-aware approach is delivering confidence - and more consistent results in major tournaments.

Long John and the Missing Link

The popular Long John Daly has been to the top of the mountain in golf, but he spends most of his time in the contrasting valleys. He has won major championships, but his inability to consistently manage his emotions in the big events keeps him from winning more.

Here's an example ....

Unhappy with the hole locations set by the United States Golf Association on the final day of the 1999 U.S. Open, Daly smashed a moving ball one-handed across the green, proceeded to finish with an 11 on the hole and an 83 for the day. In the third round of the 1997 PGA Championship, Long John tossed his driver over a fence on the 12th hole after a poor tee shot. During the final round, he initiated an argument with a rules official to complete the self-destruction.

While Daly's talent is undeniable and can produce results when the stars are aligned, his lack of self-awareness and emotional management has kept him in the valleys for far too long.

Emotional intelligence in leadership is no different.

Self-Awareness for Business Success

Bill George, CEO of Medtronic, stayed at the top of the leaderboard for 12 years. During his leadership, the company's sales soared from $740 million when he joined to $7 billion when he retired. He credits self-awareness as the basis of his leadership success. In fact, George has focused on self-awareness since his days in college when he worked on personality flaws with the advice of college friends, to today, where he regularly meditates. George insists that leadership training must include not just instruction about technical business skills, but also teaching about human behavior.

Peaks and Valleys for Eisner … and Disney

Michael Eisner, like John Daly, has been to the top of the mountain. Profits in the Walt Disney company exploded when he took the reins … .and he could do no wrong. But the company has struggled to maintain consistent growth and keep shareholders happy. Many point to Eisner as the cause of the problems.

Unlike Phil Mickelson, who assessed the "state of his game" and his shortcomings, Eisner seems to have avoided ongoing assessment by surrounding himself with associates who failed to criticize his actions or choices - thus restricting his growth as a leader. The lack of self-awareness created a blind spot in Eisner's perception of how he might be affecting others in his organization.

"Because of the furious pace of change in organizations today, difficult to manage relationships sabotage more business than anything else - it is
not a question of strategy that gets us into trouble,
it is a question of emotions."

J. Kotter, Harvard Business School

This lack emotional growth on Eisner's part has led Disney down a negative path that peaked in a shareholders meeting in 2003, where board members Stanley Gold and Roy Disney resigned from the Disney board citing Eisner's leadership as the reasons for exiting. They highlighted Eisner's desire for personal gain (cashing $700 million in shareholder value), a short-term financial vision and a cannibalization of company icons as their reasons for resigning. While Mr. Eisner's early wins were very impressive, he did not demonstrate the key quality of elite performers - consistent performance over time.

What Does All of this Mean for You?

So, what can you learn from Phil Mickelson and Bill George to help yourself to create a steady, upward climb into the positive, proactive parts of life's emotional spiral, where consistent performance under pressure is possible?

Here's some ideas that can help put you on the path to consistent, sustainable performance:

  1. Assess your Emotional Intelligence. Unlike IQ, EQ or Emotional Intelligence can be assessed. It's not a bad idea to understand exactly where you might be strong and where you might need work. This is a good first step.

  2. Build a great plan and stay the course. Understand where you want to go. A plan is crucial to consistent development. Keep your eye on the big picture and the eventual goal and periodically revisit the plan to make adjustments. There will be bumps in the road - but the bumps (and frustration levels) will be much smaller if your plan is well developed.

  3. Enhance self-awareness through practice. Ask yourself these questions: Do you clearly understand how your emotions impact your performance? Do you know how your emotions impact others? Do you understand your tendencies? Do you clearly understand your strengths and limits? Identify your tendencies under pressure - pay attention to the physical signs (heart rate, nervous feeling, etc.) Be aware of behavior in stressful situations and chart results.

  4. Create reasonable expectations for yourself and others based on an analysis of capabilities and experience. Expectations are emotional traps, setting you up for frustration and disappointment.

  5. Concentrate your energy and emotion on only those things you can control and influence. Golfers are notorious for blaming everything under the sun for their failures from the weather to the golf course and point to anything else they have no control over. Concentrate energy only on those things you have direct control over: your attitude, your expectations, your decision-making ability, your equipment your plan or your strategy. Any focus on those things you have no control over will lead to frustration, and keep you from moving up in the emotional spiral.

  6. Reserve judgment on yourself and others on every result. In each stressful situation you encounter, step back and give yourself a small amount of time before reacting. Choose your response after a quick evaluation of the situation.

  7. Fear can be managed - build confidence at every opportunity. Everyone experiences fear - it is a primal human emotion. It can paralyze performance. Knowledge and understanding about yourself (self-awareness) and more time in the positive, upward part of the emotional spiral will help you deal with it and move past it.

We're all performers in life and pressures are unavoidable. So, it's best to be prepared and have the capacity to maximize your performance when the pressure arrives on the first tee, in a big meeting or at a family outing. Like the broadcasters say, the ones who control their emotions …. win. Just ask Tiger Woods.


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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