• Adam Tarnow

Littering or self-defense?

Updated: Jan 9, 2021

It was embarrassing. I couldn’t hit a shot straight or farther than 100 yards. Supposedly I was struggling with an “open clubface.” At the time, that kind of sounded like a sandwich George Constanza would order at the diner.

It was my second golf lesson. Why am I taking golf lessons? Because my sons have started playing golf and I want to be a good dad. I can’t let my sons wander around a big scary golf course all by themselves, right? How heartless and unloving would that be? Very heartless, if you ask me. No, I want to be present for my sons (aaannnnddd I want to shoot under 100), so I’m taking lessons.

The first lesson was really encouraging. I actually drove home from the first one wondering how much my business would need to grow to justify a golf club membership. Sixty minutes into my second lesson, I wondered how long it would take me to just walk home, and if throwing my golf bag in the pond would be considered littering (or self-defense).

It’s been a while since I’ve been in a position of vulnerability like this. For whatever reason, I can’t remember the last time I was a student. Over the last 10 years, I’ve been the one doing all the teaching, coaching, and leading. This process of being a student has been humbling. However, it’s also been a great reminder of a few things about communication, leadership, and coaching.

Let’s imagine you and I are playing a nice and easy 140-yard par three. If we were playing this hole and asked me to share what I’ve been learning, I’d say….

Stroke one: people need to know you believe in them. Failure and inconsistency are a natural part of learning something new. Failure and inconsistency are really frustrating. Therefore, as a teacher, coach, or leader, you have to keep letting your people know you believe they can improve. If you don’t, they will be filled with self-doubt and insecurity. Those are not the best mindsets for learning a new skill. Cast vision of success!

Stroke two: force rank one or two things for someone to work on. During lesson two, I was given five or six different “small things” to think about during my golf swing. I was trying to work on all of them at the same time. That wasn’t helpful. Thankfully, the coach distilled everything down to two things I needed to focus on between lessons. The forced ranking was helpful.

Stroke three: images are better than words. Describing the proper golf swing is no small task. The best golf instructors, like the best teachers, understand using word pictures is better than just using words. My word pictures: “get ready to throw a frisbee” and “make the hockey stick hit the bag.” Those probably mean nothing to you, but those are really helpful for me as I think about my new golf swing. Images help.

Stroke four (come on, you didn’t think I was going to shoot par, did you?): a teacher, leader, or coach can only do so much. If I’m not committed, no matter what my golf coach says or does, it won’t help me. I have to want to get better. Coach Jacob can sleep well at night because, in the end, he’s doing all he can do. Me getting better is not 100% dependent upon him. I have to put his counsel into practice.

Think about someone you are leading, teaching, or coaching. This week, seek ways to remind them you believe they can make progress. If you are helping someone who needs a lot of work, force rank what areas they need to focus on. Work hard to give as many word pictures as you can. And finally, don’t forget, as a teacher, leader, and coach, you can’t force people to do anything. Be faithful with what you can control, and then rest well at night.

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