By Kris Routch
Recently the LPGA came to Pittsburgh for their signature event, the Women’s US Open, at historic Oakmont Country Club. Among the many stories told that week, perhaps none was more compelling than that of Jaye Marie Green, an amateur golfer who had qualified for her sport’s highest championship at the ripe old age of 16. While that in itself might seem remarkable, that’s not what attracted me to her story. And no, she didn’t set any scoring records; in fact she didn’t even come close to making the cut. What brought her some notoriety wasn’t how she played but rather how she approached the experience.
Sometime during the second round of her sport’s penultimate event, while standing in the middle of a fairway on one of the most historic golf courses in the world, she stopped what she was doing, turned to her caddy (who was also her father) and asked this simple question “What can I do to improve myself?” Keep in mind that this was a girl who had ascended to the top ranks of her sport in an amazingly short time, was already living the dream of any girl who ever picked up a golf club, and who had every reason to assume that if she just kept doing what she had been doing thus far in her career she would continue to succeed. Instead she had the maturity to stop and realize that if she was going to continue to succeed in her profession, she had to be humble enough to realize that she still had a lot to learn and the sooner she started, the sooner she would see results…even if that meant starting right in the middle of the biggest tournament of her life.
It got me wondering about business leaders, especially those who have had a lot of success and have moved up the ladder to mid-level or even senior level positions and how they might handle a similar situation. How many of these leaders, in the middle of the biggest project they had ever been assigned, would be willing to turn to their boss and ask: “What can I do to improve myself?” My firsthand experience working with executives would tell me that only a small percentage would.
So, let me rephrase my challenge: How many of those who would ask the question do you suppose would end up accelerating their development ahead of those that wouldn’t? Who would get to hear critically important feedback before the other?
And what about the impact to the relationship between the leader and his/her boss? Would it build trust or reduce it? Would it inspire a senior leader to take a personal interest in the development of an individual who asks such a poignant question at such a critical time? To answer that, we have to go back to the middle of that fairway at Oakmont and see it through the eyes of her caddy (and father) who said:. “We mended together, right there on that fairway, she bares her soul right there…”
I think it inspired him to commit to do whatever it took to help her improve. Especially when the next day, while the rest of field was playing the third round of the US Open, and the other competitors who missed the cut were journeying to the next tournament, Jaye Marie and her father hit balls on the practice range at Oakmont in searing heat for over six hours.
I, for one, am rooting for her to be successful on the tour for years to come. Whether she is or not, I’m confident of one thing …whatever she decides to do in her life, she’ll be successful not only because of her physical talents, but because of her mental maturity and the commitment to excellence that she showed on that bright sunny day in the middle of that Oakmont fairway.Kris Routch is an Executive Consultant for Development Dimensions International (DDI).