Leadership lessons from a golf outing

As the new session gets under way in Scottish schools, I have been reflecting on how I have been spending my summer.  Last month, I was away on my annual golfing trip with 3 pals. It has been going on for around 20 years and the format has remained more or less the same having 3 nights away with 18 holes on each of the 4 days.  We return home after the 4thgame.  We have visited many golf courses in Scotland and the North of England. Our furthest venture was to The Belfry in Sutton Coldfield in the Midlands.  This year’s trip was a wonderful experience at Lancaster Golf Club. We resided in the Club’s Dormy House accommodation, 2 minutes from the first tee.  It was one of our best – the clubhouse is the former home of Lord Ashton – Ashton Hall, where the public rooms are spectacular.  The course itself is a great test being challenging but fair and is in excellent order.   

There are a few leadership messages that spin out of our wee golfing group and its trips.  One is about the nature of relationships.  Obviously, given the longevity of our trips, ours is a long-standing friendship group.  We have golf as a common denominator, but other interests link us although these are not the same across the board.  Apart from the outing, we may gather, socially as a group perhaps twice a year, at most.  We don’t even play at the same golf club.

One year, when we were away, we were discussing where we might go on future trips.  The suggestion came up that we might go abroad.  This provoked some reflection and the observation was made that we would have to go away for a longer period of time.  However, the notion was quickly rejected when one of our 4 made the following observations.  “I don’t want to spend a week away with you 3 guys.  What we do just now is fine – 4 days.  That gives us time to catch up, swap stories, have just enough golf and get home before we start to get on one another’s nerves!”  We haven’t changed our approach and our friendship group is still intact.

This led me to think about the importance of relationships at work and how challenging it can be.  Like our relatives, we don’t get to choose our work colleagues – unless you’re the boss, of course!  Chances are that there will be some around you that you could like better, but you have to adjust and get along with them to make it all work, if you pardon the pun. 

“It’s not personal Sonny.  It’s strictly business.”  Michael Corleone said this to his brother in The Godfather.  Whether anything can ever by “strictly business” is debatable. However, in the work context, this maxim became ever clearer and more relevant to me as my position in the organisational hierarchy increased.  As a Head Teacher, I would sometimes say explicitly that I did not come to work to find friends but to do a job; I didn’t need people to be my friends, but we had to get along in the interests of the job.  This approach also eliminates potential complications if friendship overlaps with a discussion about job performance. Building effective working relationships is vitally important to success but more than that can bring challenges.

Iain White 26th August 2019

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