Leadership, as in golf, rarely gives you a perfect lie.

Rainy Golf Weather
In leadership, instruction helps, experience solidifies. (Tweet That)

Why do leaders train like so many golfers train?

I know incredibly talented golfers who will stand for hours secluded on a quiet range with the same club, hitting balls from a perfect, flat lie with no wind. The problem is that the tournament next week is on a hilly, windy course in front of 30,000 people.

In other words, they practice in a bubble…a perfect world scenario. But it’s far from what they will experience in a tournament.

We often train leaders the same way. We give them instruction on running meetings, compensation, and even how to handle conflict with team members, but always from a perfect lie. Rarely are their feet put to the fire or are they put off balance.

Putting in the reps

When you encounter an imperfect lie or a strong wind or another non-perfect scenario in golf, you don’t want the first time to be in a pressure-packed tournament. You have to have hundreds or thousands of reps under your belt of similar shots. You want to be able to call on your memory bank of how you handled it before. You want to remember all of the pre-shot adjustments you made that worked and then allow muscle memory to take over.

You definitely don’t want to try to figure it out on the fly.

The same goes from leadership. You don’t want to try to figure out how to handle situations when they really matter. You want to have a lot of practice under your belt.

Instruction helps, experience solidifies

I received a lot of golf instruction from my father and from books. I would get a tip from him or get a tip from a book and then test it.

That testing part was the key. I didn’t just read something, store it away in my memory bank, and then hope that:

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A. I remembered it

B. That it worked.

No thank you. I first thought about it for a moment. I got a visual of what it looked like. I made sure I was physically capable of doing what he or the book suggested. Then I immediately went out to practice it. And practice, and practice, and practice it.

Sometimes, certain shots would take me tens of thousands of repetitions before I would break it out in competition. There were times I would face a shot in a tournament and think, “I’ve got this shot, I’ve been working on it.” But my sensible side would remind me that I’ve only put in five hundred reps so far and I would stick to the shot I knew I could hit.

If you want to be a leader, you need to put in the reps. Books and mentors help, don’t get me wrong. Read, read, and read some more. Meet with a mentor. Get coaching. Attend seminars. Do all of those.

But you must apply that knowledge. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said,

Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.

Apply it now

Don’t wait to apply what you learn. Apply it now. The sooner, the better. Test, test, test. Practice, practice, practice.

If you are not a leader at work, practice at home. If you don’t have a family, volunteer somewhere.

Get all the leadership experience that you can. Because one day you might wake up, like I did, and have thirty-plus people reporting to you and no clue how to handle it. You might wake up realizing you have all the knowledge, but have only practiced in perfect conditions. And, trust me, that does not work out very well.

Find a place to apply your newfound leadership wisdom. Find a place to practice being a leader. Find a place to stretch your abilities, force you to seek more knowledge, and gain invaluable experience under the gun.

How can you gain more experience as a leader today?

0 thoughts on “Leadership Has No Perfect World Scenarios | Training to be a Leader

  1. Geoff Franklin says:

    Love the extra example you give in the audio. As a former basketball player, I went from 7th man on a freshman team to all-state in two years simply by playing more pickup games. I “practiced” less and played more. Meaning, I stopped shooting free throws and three-pointers in perfect situations and started having more game situations. That made me a better player.

    Fundamentals are important and so is learning, but experience takes the cake.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Great example. I was talking to a friend recently about the same thing in golf. If I had it to do all over again, I would have practiced less and played more.

  2. brentmkelly says:

    Great thoughts Matt. It really is the training under fire that helps molds and pushes us to grow. Difficult situations will arise and the difficult training will pay off. Love this!

  3. Jon Stolpe says:

    (1) Watch other leaders, (2) Get off your butt, (3) Lead. Experience happens by doing things – not by sitting around.

  4. Paige Gordon II says:

    I can gain experience by accepting that there doesn’t have to be a certain of number of people following me in order to “make” me a leader. Even if it is just my wife following at the moment, I am still a leader and it is still my responsibility to be the best one I can be.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      BAM! You are a leader if you choose to be, although it does help to have followers eventually 🙂

  5. Katherine Leicester says:

    Yeah. What he said!

  6. In training there is the 10-20-70 rule. 10% of learning is in the classroom, 20% is self teaching, 70% is doing.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Love that ratio Jim!

  7. Steve Pate says:

    Amen to the put it to practice right a way or at least experiment with what you learned so you don’t forget about it.

    Being a golfer my self, I would add, after the whole muscle memory training, don’t over “think” every shot, some times, just line up, square up, and swing with confidence. That is how I’ll gain more experience today as a leader.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      That’s exactly what the right practice does…allows muscle memory to take over.

      The same is true for leaders. Once you have practiced, it comes naturally.

      1. Steve Pate says:


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