By Billy Dexter
The old adage, “My worst day on the golf course still beats my best day in the office,” adorns many a wall in business centers around the country. The opportunity to spend four to five hours outdoors on a beautiful and well-manicured golf course enjoying the great weather, your favorite beverage and a group of friends, colleagues or clients is something many executives daydream about and try to make happen weekly during the golf season. For others, hitting the green is something to be dreaded, because they fear embarrassing themselves with their lack of golf skills and lack of knowledge about the language or etiquette of the game.
Playing a round of golf is often a better setting than a power lunch or boardroom meeting to make great connections. Executives play golf for professional and personal advancement. Golf is more than just a game; it is a skill that any professional person looking to advance his or her career should learn. Golf provides you with an opportunity to get to know people and business associates in a more leisurely way.
People do business with people they like and with whom they feel comfortable. Golf can expand your circle of friends and contacts. It’s also a great way to meet people if you are new to the area. By stretching ourselves to be more knowledgeable in a wide variety of subjects and participating in a variety of activities, we increase our networking community. In addition, more people are attracted to and want to spend more time with us.
I remember earlier in my career at Motorola, most business meetings and conferences involved playing a round of golf. We’d adjust our itinerary to make tee times just before or right after meetings. I always had an excuse not to make it. I didn’t want others to know that I couldn’t play; I didn’t want to humiliate myself. I also didn’t want to spend that much time with my boss and other colleagues, as I didn’t see the benefits. However, I quickly observed how much closer my colleagues became to my boss and clients because of the time they spent on the course and at the 19th hole having lunch/drinks after the round. As I learned the game and played more, I gained confidence. Now, I organize golf outings and entertain clients often at my golf club.
In addition to making great connections on the course, the game of golf is a lifelong learning and improvement process. Working at your game requires lessons, practice and the internal drive to want to improve and be competitive. You can also learn a lot about a person during a round of golf. It reveals how we handle good bounces, bad breaks and really difficult situations that expose our true character.
Even if you don’t play, become savvy with golf jargon. Know the difference between a birdie and a bogie, or a bunker and a hazard. If you do get out on the links, let colleagues know your skill level: your skills may be excused, but breach of golf etiquette will not. You need to observe the rules and traditions of the sport.
Wondering when to talk business? While on the course is not the right time – unless the client broaches the subject first. Playing golf is about building relationships with your colleagues or clients. Your opportunity for business conversations will arrive after the round while having a drink or sharing a meal. I would encourage you to learn the game and take advantage of playing with colleagues and clients, as golf is a sport you can play well into your retirement years. Golf is a great way to enhance your network and deepen the connections that can lead to business opportunities.
Billy Dexter is a partner at Heidrick & Struggles, a global executive search firm. This article was originally published in Uptown Professional magazine.