Golf in a Time of Pandemic

The other day I may have played my last day of golf for the season. Here in Michigan, snow is in the forecast for the coming days. Soon our course will be hard frozen and covered in snow. Another season over.

I usually would not write about my playing golf. Even on my best days, my game is nothing to cheer about. But these are not the best of days. These are the worst of days. The pandemic has upended all of our lives. And so, golf has offered my playing partners and me moments of solace.

Most of my golf buddies are retired. They have missed vacations as well as visits with children and worse with grandchildren. We live now in isolation, apart from loved ones as well as friends.

Getting out on the course is a refuge. We mask up on the №1 tee box, but once we’re out on the course, we keep socially distant, and so masks are not necessary. For the next few hours, we can revert to the banter that sustains us, laughing and joking at one another’s mishits as well as praising the good shots or long putts that one or more of us make.

This year for me has been different. I did not play in our league, something I truly missed. I did not feel comfortable in overly congregant settings, even on a golf course. Hardly a sacrifice, but it was a loss of something, the community of men at play.

Uncertain tomorrows

Writing about golf in a time of plague and uncertainty seems almost supercilious. Millions and millions more have truly lost part of themselves. So many have suffered, and so many have died. Golf is inconsequential.

Yet golf for me, and for my pals, has been a refuge. A return to presumed normalcy that we know is no longer there. Our course is located across the street from what’s known as the Big House. Weekly during the season, it boasts the largest crowds to watch a football game. Not this year. Games have been played, miserably, but played nonetheless in front of empty seats. Eerie yet fitting.

My friend, author Chester Elton, regularly posts pictures of things he’s grateful for and asks us to chime in. Golf with friends has been a particular joy this year. The camaraderie and good cheer (some liquid even) have meant much to me. It has been an affirmation that despite the world turned upside down, somethings have remained “green side up.” And I am grateful.

Maybe I will go out a time or two in December. (We in Michigan play when it is 40 degrees.) Yet emotionally, the time spent on the course for 2020 seems over. And it may be the only thing I miss about this wretched year.

First posted on Medium.com 12/6/2020

VIDEO: You Ain’t As Smart As You Think You Are

Overconfidence strikes all of us at one time or another.

Multiple studies of managers show that a majority of managers overestimate their own ability to perform. And, as a result, they might be capable to getting themselves and their teams into trouble.

Psychologists call this the “overconfidence effect.”

According to the author Rolf Dobeliwriting in Psychology Today, the overconfidence effect “measures the difference between what people really know and what they think they know.”

Dobeli, who wrote “The Art of Thinking Clearly,” advises, “Be aware that you tend to overestimate your knowledge.”

For managers, it means to be on guard. You can do so in three ways.

  1. Question assumptions. Look for what is propping up your arguments. Is it valid? Has it been tested by others?
  2. Look for skeptics. Surround yourself with people who will disagree with you. Make it safe for them to push back. Challenge them to examine your assumptions.
  3. Ask for feedback. Invite people to let you know how you are doing. Encourage them to be specific. Good managers create feedback loops where there is continuous discussion about what happened, is happening and will happen next.

Overconfidence may be part of management today but savvy managers are those to keep it in check.


First posted on SmartBrief.com 4/19/2019

VIDEO: Make Your Attitude One of Gratitude

Gratitude is the grease that makes working with others easier; it dampens the sparks that occur when co-workers rub each other the wrong way.

Gratitude comes in two parts: external and internal.

Let’s take external because I think it is the easier of the two to master. Why? Because it is action-oriented.

Show direct and frank appreciation. Make it known how much you value an individual’s contributions. Be as specific as possible. Delineate what the individual has done to receive a thank you and tell him or her how much their work is appreciated. Simple words certainly, but they go a long way. All of us cherish moments of authentic recognition.

The second part of gratitude may be trickier to master because it deals with our inner selves.

Gratitude is the recognition that you have something to offer the world and the world has something to offer you. Gratitude is the capacity to care.

From that recognition comes the thanks you need to be grateful — for who you are and what you have.

First posted on SmartBrief.com on 3/15/2019

VIDEO: Give Me a “T” for Teamwork

Dysfunction is prevalent across many organizations and so management responds with an increase in training.

Yet holding team-building activities when management is in flux, standards are declining and behaviors are eroding is akin to selling life insurance policies as the Titanic is sinking — meaningless.

What makes a team is defined by common purpose, and if there is no common purpose, then teamwork is superfluous. When lack of focus is endemic, responsibility falls at the feet of those in charge.

Building teams is a perennial effort in organizations — so much so that when we use the term “team building,” many employees roll their eyes. They also do a mental checklist of all the team building exercises they have experienced — “radioactive contamination” exercises,  trust falls, whitewater-rafting trips and backyard ropes courses.

Dysfunction stems from lack of trust. The way to build trust is through commitment that emerges from listening to employees to determine the problems.

Members of dysfunctional teams live lives of daily misery because their ability to make improvements is disregarded by their bosses, who know only how to make things worse.

Savvy managers challenge individuals to solve problems and empower them to put those remedies into action.

First posted on SmartBrief.com 3/29/2019

VIDEO: How Good Managers Teach

Good bosses are good teachers.

They help typically shape an individual’s career by sharing their expertise as well as sharing the wisdom necessary to master not simply the job, but a career.

The lessons revolve around what’s happening in the business as well as what’s necessary to learn in order to become more effective.

So, how do great managers do this?

Invite questions. Implicit in teaching one-on-one is the notion of questioning. Curiosity is essential to learning so good managers make it known they welcome questions. Questioning reveals two important things: 1. What students already know; 2. What they need to know to become better.

Reveal insights. Back-and-forth questioning is good, but it is good for the manager to share what he or she knows. This sharing can be in the form of an explicit lesson, or it can be in the form of a story.

Question assumptions. Teaching employees to be skeptical of easy answers is good practice. When employees are expected to push back on what they have learned, they demonstrate that they have learned.

Their challenge then is to prove their new learning. Sometimes it will affirm what already is known. Other times it will open new avenues of discussion and learning.

There is something else good teachers do: instill confidence in those they teach.

“One of the things the great teachers do is prepare you for their absence,” writes Diana Geotsch. “They give you confidence, they give you your life, and, by doing so, they make themselves obsolete.”

First posted on SmartBrief.com 3/1/2019

VIDEO: Leading from the Middle

There is a lot of literature about how to get to the top of your profession. By comparison, there is scant information about how to be a good middle manager.

The term “middle management” is an amorphous term. It can be someone who manages two people as well as an SVP who manages a global workforce. “Middle” does not adequately describe the range of responsibility such a manager has.

Managing from the middle is a balancing act. You want to do your best by helping the team and the boss succeed.

Good middle managers do these things well:

  • Understand the big picture — where the organization is headed
  • Root out problems — find way around or through obstacles that derail lesser teams
  • Work with colleagues — live by the mantra: from me to we
  • Speak the truth

Good middle managers are not yes people. They gain credence through their competence, diligence and conscience.

First Posted on SmartBrief.com 2/8/2019Fi

VIDEO: Dreams or Visions?

Is there a difference between a dream and a vision?

Reality dictates that while visions are comprised of dreams, dreams are not visions. Dreams are flights of fancy. Visions are directives.

To my way of thinking, vision is becoming — you dream of possibility and you seek to put it into action.

Should we care if we dream or we envision? Yes.

Dreams are drifts of the imagination, as if one imaginary clouds in the sky. Visions are scripted efforts to effect change. They occur personally and organizationally.

Dreams are nice; visions are work.

Entrepreneurs are those who turn the dream into a plan — a vision that they make real, either as a business, a process or something entirely new and different.

A visionary is one who sees potential in an idea — not always his or her own — and sees its possibilities.

Visionaries power our future. Visionaries turn dreams into practice and in this way make the world different for themselves and the rest of us.

First posted on SmartBrief.com 1/18/2019

VIDEO: 3 Ways to Deal with Change

Before you climb a mountain, you want to do some exercises first.

Obvious advice for any would-be alpinist, but the same applies to anyone working in a dysfunctional organization.

The problems facing the organization may seem as impossible to solve as it would be for a out-of-shape couch potato to climb Mount Everest. And when that feeling sets in, change seems impossible and so people disengage.

Just the opposite may be necessary. You need to decide how you will respond to the challenge.

  1. Tolerate. Not every problem requires your personal involvement. You only become involved when the situation demands an intervention from you. To do otherwise what we call meddling.
  2. Leave. Intolerable situations demand irrevocable decisions. If the problem is so great — and truly beyond your control — you may have to exit the situation. No shame in leaving an organization that you cannot change and, as a result, is making you unhappy.
  3. Act. This is the choice for leaders. Seldom if ever can a leader say, “not my problem.” She must confront the problem and deal with it realistically. She must find ways to mobilize others to take action to find solutions. Leadership requires active intervention.

The bottom line is that none of us can control events. We may be able to influence outcomes, but not determine them. What we can control is how we react to such events.

First posted on SmartBrief.com 1/4/2019

VIDEO: Making Time to Think

Every leader needs to make time to think.

The concept of “think time” is sound. I would prefer the term “reflection time,” but call it what you will. it should be regularly scheduled because if it’s not, it will not occur. That’s a lesson I learned from the late Skip LeFauve, former senior executive at General Motors and president of Saturn. He said that, if you don’t put reflection time on your schedule, you will not do it.

Reflection, as Skip noted, does not need to be done alone. In fact, he would use the time to converse with a trusted aide to hash out issues of the day. Reflection by its nature is an echoing process, that is you are bouncing thoughts around, or words around if you are with another.

The challenge for executives is to make the time to reflect. But many with whom I have worked make the effort. They instruct their administrative assistants to schedule reflection time every week or at least twice weekly, for up to a half day at a time.

The challenge for anyone is to sift through what is being communicated for nuggets that can be integrated into useful knowledge.

Studying the issues is critical. Reflection is a time for such processing.

Reflection time is think time, and that’s something all of us could us more of.

First posted on SmartBrief.com 12/21/2018

VIDEO: Being Better

What does it mean to be better?

Better for me means being a more supportive friend, relative or colleague. Being there without being asked. That is, where there is a need to pitch in without being asked. Do things to make people happier.

It could be as simple as smiling more, or offering to hold the door for someone.

Do so in a spirit of openness, not obligation.

You might define better as involvement. Pick your topic and put yourself into it. For example, look at your job. If you are deficit in an area, bone up on it, either through study or by asking others for help.

In your community, look around you at areas of need. What could you do to make things better for just one person?

Adding steel to the spine of better, let’s include the admonition: no whinging. It’s a term the Brits use for whining. I saw the two words paired together in something I read recently that made me think, yes that’s a good thought.

Notably, we will fail many times this year, either at being better or at something else, but it we focus on a positive like “better,” we will be pointing ourselves in the right direction.

First posted on SmartBrief.com 12/7/2018