Like many people, I enjoy the game of golf. Like any sport, golf is not easy and requires a certain measure of practice and patience to excel.
In a recent edition of the Chicago Tribune, an article caught my interest because of the way one man has been able to take the game of golf and turn it into a learning experience for people who wish to become more effective leaders. "Getting into swing of leadership" discusses how Joe Bosco and Peter Donahue, co-founders of GreenToTee Golf Academy in Northbrook, Ill., have taken a popular pastime and added a new dimension with the Golf-To-Business Team Building program. Bosco believes that by playing golf blindfolded a person can become a better employee and leader.
The exercise pairs golfers with blindfolded partners. The person with unobstructed vision advises the blindfolded player how best to hit the ball in the hole. This requires unblindfolded players to be exact and patient, explaining thoroughly what it is that they want the other person to do. For the blindfolded partner, it requires good listening skills and the ability to take instruction and feedback from a peer or subordinate. Bosco suggests all these qualities make for a better leader, and I think he is right.
While he admits there are other methods of acquiring leadership skills that don't require golf, Bosco suggests his program is more effective because it is more engaging than a typical conference room discussion. I think he has a point, as I have attended a number of leadership discussions that not only were boring but lacking in substance. Too many so-called leadership gurus are more interested in talking about new management techniques than they are about actually developing leaders through the use of real-life, practical exercises.
In the article, Pat Galagan, managing director of content at the American Society for Training and Development in Alexandria, Va., makes it clear that there are all kinds of methods for teaching business skills. Any activity from sailing a boat to preparing a gourmet meal can help teach people to be better leaders. "They're all metaphors for the workplace. They take you outside the problems and distractions of your work to focus on what it takes to work as a team," Galagan says.
She believes one reason there has been so much emphasis put on leadership training recently is because of what we have witnessed in corporate America. "It's a direct result of the bad examples we've seen. Enron and Martha Stewart have made companies think about how they develop leaders," Galagan says.
She also suggests that no matter where the training takes place, whether in the boardroom or some exotic locale, the principles of team-building, listening to and treating peers with the dignity and respect they deserve should be the goal of all exercises.
Jack Zenger, chief executive of the Extraordinary Performance Group in Orem, Utah, and author of The Extraordinary Leader, believes that to become a better leader, an individual must know what traits most need improvement. Consequently, he believes that leadership training should not be a one-size-fits-all program because everybody is different and has different needs. Zenger believes a more targeted approach to teaching leadership skills can be more effective.
Often the only way to do that is by finding out what your colleagues and peers think of you. This takes a great deal of courage and maturity. I'm not sure there are many executives who would submit themselves to this kind of scrutiny by their co-workers. However, Zenger has found that effective leaders were very strong in three or four of 16 important leadership skills. It wasn't important for leaders to excel in all of the skill areas, and, in fact, most did not. Zenger's grouping of those skills necessary to be a true leader are: character and integrity; the ability to drive for results by setting goals and holding people accountable for their actions; interpersonal skills, such as communicating, collaborating and motivating others; leading change, including strategizing; and personal capabilities, including competence and problem-solving. Zenger is a strong believer that leadership development is not established in a one-week course but rather something that culminates over a lifetime.
Another unique approach to building leaders was established by Roger Nierenberg, creator of the Music Paradigm in New York. In his workshop, Nierenberg actually places executives in an orchestra so they learn how individual musicians must relate to one another to make music. He uses exercises to help executives understand the importance of communication, leadership, listening and teamwork. By watching what happens when a single musician is taken out of the mix, participants are able to draw conclusions about the inner workings of a workplace. "It happens in the most natural way," Nierenberg says.
Obviously, there are a number of ways to accomplish the formidable task of developing leadership skills. Whether it's through music or golf, the hope is that those participants will have developed the strength it takes to lead others.
None of us is too old to learn,
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Lauer is the author of two books, Reach for the Stars and Soar with the Eagles, and is an experienced guest lecturer available for public speaking engagements. For more information, visit www.chucklauer.com