The Power of Eldership

I have always thought that Jack Nicklaus is amazing. Now I know it. I watched The Golden Bear do a clinic today at the Alotian Club in Little Rock as part of a major charity event. What I saw was the model of an elder statesman. As the best in the world, Jack Nicklaus has nothing to prove. He made jokes about being old, about not playing competitive golf and he talked his way through some important basic mechanics. But the real show (at least to me) was not in the techniques- but what he shared about how he approached the game.

So- what has this to do with leadership? For an hour, Nicklaus talked about what he did without telling anyone what they should do. He modeled excellence without ego. He took something that seems very complicated and made it accessible. He provided a picture of excellence that was approachable enough for those who were there to believe it possible that they too could perform that way; if not at golf, then at something which fires their own imagination. Can you imagine the power of that unleashed at your company?

Nicklaus took us through his warm up routine. The first important distinction was that he does not practice before a match. Instead, he practices after he plays, allowing him to focus his practice on where it is needed most.

He warms up starting with the most foundational setup and grip. This physical form of centering gets the most solid performance from his body. He is not adjusting for what he was doing poorly in the last match. He already practiced to correct those flaws. He is evaluating the quality of his play today.

He hit a few bad shots, and simply reminded himself that “..this is warm up” and even had a sense of humor about it. (Of course, his bad shots were ones that I would be bragging about for a week.) What was the response to a bad shot? Simply to focus on the next one. In this manner, his physical centering was extended to his emotional state.

This warm up routine is in service to a simple strategy. Jack Nicklaus, a giant of the game and remarkably successful competitor wanted to understand his own strengths are today . Like the rest of us hackers and duffers, he does not have a perfect game. The difference is that instead of berating himself, he simply wants to understand the quality of his play today. His observation of golfers he has watched over the years was very informative. “I have never seen a 20 handicap player who could not be a 10. Or a 10 who could not be a 5. But where their game goes bad is when the 10 tries to be a scratch.” Over reaching, unrealistic course management or inflated sense of capability does more harm than good. But playing your own best game, based on what you know today is a key to improvement.

Lastly, Jack talked about managing energy. He talked about training up to an event, and then resting as the only strategy to bring your best game consistently. This is an important concept in a business climate that operates 24/7. Sadly we all too often treat our work lives like a marathon with no finish line. If you have not read The Power of Full Engagement, which redefines managing energy as more important than managing time, now is a good time.

I think that Jack Nicklaus would go back to competitive golf if he could, and that would be a shame. He is famous for so many things, including his famous Ryder Cup round with Tony Jacklin. But what he does now has more leverage, touches more lives and has a more lasting legacy.