Golfing Your Way to Success as a Leader – Part One

I love using sports analogies to help drive home a point. I use batting averages in baseball and shots-on-goal in hockey as analogies for sales people’s successes. In the past I have talked about how football teams are really made up of three separate teams; the offensive team, the defensive team, and the special teams, each with completely different tasks but all three with the same objective.

But there is no sport more aligned with the business world than the game of golf.

Golf & Leadership

A few years ago I read an article in the Harvard Business Review comparing the game of golf with leadership skills.  The premise of the HBR article was that most people in executive roles have been promoted up through the ranks because they are very talented in one or two leadership skills.  Once these executives arrive they continue to attempt to lead with what has been successful for them without developing any new skills.  According to the author of that article, this is the same approach as trying to play 18 holes with just two golf clubs; it can be done, but it would be very difficult.

However, there are many more ways to compare golf to business. For instance, think of clubs as skills and trait. You can compare your golf swing and your clubs, understanding the golf courses, and comparing how each hole on the course is different.

Let’s get started with part one comparing clubs and leadership skills and traits…

What’s in Your Bag?

It is very interesting that many executive leaders understand more about the 14 golf clubs in their bag than their personal leadership strengths and weaknesses. They know which clubs they hit well and spend a tremendous amount of time practicing with the clubs they don’t. But when it comes to their leadership abilities, they spend very little time developing any new skills.  Effective leaders need to have a realistic self- awareness to know where they are weak and go out and get those skills.

Out of all the clubs available, you must have at least three types to be successful; a driver, a pitching wedge, and a putter.  Why? Because you use these three clubs on every hole.  However, you also need to be good with the other clubs because you can get in big trouble if you aren’t.  In business you may be able to lead by using a few important skills, but you have to be pretty good at a lot of skills if you want to be really successful.

It’s Your Pick

To help drive this point further let’s pulled these three clubs out of the bag and look deeper at some of the needed executive leadership skills and traits. Even though we are looking at just three clubs there are more than 13 skills and traits to consider;


  • Driver
  • Risk Taker
  • Integrator
  • Visionary
  • Evaluator

Pitching Wedge

  • Powerful people skills


  • Persistence
  • Uncompromising honesty
  • Talent Scout
  • Team Development
  • Enthusiasm
  • Recruiter

Take an honest look at these clubs and how their extended meanings translate to daily behaviors in your leadership roles. Which areas do you need to work on to improve your leadership game? What areas could you use some work? How are you going to improve?  Who can help you?

Now that you have the clubs, you will need to know how to swing them… Stay tuned for Part Two.

Bryan Gillman is Director of Branch Operations at NextGen Information Services.
He can be reached at

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2 responses to “Golfing Your Way to Success as a Leader – Part One

  1. I’m always wary of sports analogies… Football and golf are the two worst… However, it does make sense in this case. I’ll be looking for Part 2 on this one. Thanks!


    • Jason,

      Very interesting. What is it about the sport analogies that makes you wary?


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