Fellow blogger and great leadership author, consultant and coach Scott Eblin has written about leadership lessons learned from yoga, I’d like to follow that with supervisory lessons learned from golf.
If you don’t play golf, hang in there and don’t worry, because this will be all about you.
First, I think yoga is much more a global means to learning about self and change and many other things that are important in life and work, but we can also learn something very practical from a game in which, the joke goes, the first 20 years are the hardest.
I took a vacation day yesterday to play, having been fried, burned-out, tired and otherwise fatigued from work. I drove out to the mountains to a place that is beyond description in majestic beauty.
Two points, and the easiest one first.
You must get away from the fray from time to time. Ron Heifetz calls this “getting off the dance floor and going to the balcony,” and it is getting really scary in talking to people how many never actually do this. One dirty secret: the higher up you go in an organization, the less people report having or making the time to do this.
The squeezing of vacation time, the accessing of the Blackberry while on vacation, the being too busy to walk around the building, the addiction to email in the evening – it’s all happening in one grand human experiment of attention, consciousness and focus.
From my seat, the results are unimpressive in terms of attention deficits, poor work quality, meetings where nobody is really sure what the point is, endless rework, frustration and in some cases, running so hard to complete the next task that people completely miss the broad point of it all and wind up doing something to check off that adds no value.
Getting away helps you to see the big picture, and to take stock of where you are. Besides, your doctor would tell you it’s a good idea.
The second point will really hit home if you are a golfer. Here’s what happens. Some guy or lady takes up the game, and at some point hits “the long ball,” to quote from Happy Gilmore. Seeing the ball sail forever down the fairway leaves the golfer with one clear thought: I want to do that again. Right now.
Here’s the problem. Along the way to repeating that peak experience, the sense of flow and being one with the ball, a swing “habit” develops. It may be an elbow that flies out, an incomplete backswing, a failure to pronate the wrists. Whatever it is, when you’re at the driving range trying to rediscover the glory of hitting the monster tee shot, you are grooving bad habits. You are writing code to your basal ganglia, the part of your brain that is important for memory around muscles and motion.
After a while, you are pretty settled in your habits, and you know what? It’s really, really hard to change. If you want a simple example of this, open doors with your non-preferred hand for one day, or put the mouse on the other side of your keyboard.
For supervisors who have supervised for years, it can also be really, really hard to change, and I don’t mean hitting a golf ball. I mean giving feedback, coaching employees, gaining agreement before assigning tasks, answering tough questions, motivating employees, managing conflict and all the other things a supervisor does.
Almost always, supervisors fall back on their habits, what they know or what they’ve seen others do, and it doesn’t seem to matter a lot whether these are effective or not. The refrain we sometimes hear in classes is “I’ve been doing it this way for 20 years and I’m not changing.”
There is much more to say about everything from the efficacy of building new habits, to finding out which habits work well and which don’t, but for now, the question is how much of what you do as a supervisor is intentional and productive, versus unconscious, reflexive, automatic and patterned?
As we always say, if it’s working, great. But when it’s not, we may want to take a fresh look at your swing.
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