Gut Check: Are You Taking Your Eye Off The Ball?

November 24, 2014 Vince Molinaro
Gut Check: Are You Taking Your Eye Off The Ball?

Peter was a great leader – a client of mine who led a large pharmaceutical company. Even when things didn’t go well in his business, he found a way to remain calm and focused through it all.

In fact, there was only one thing that consistently got under Peter’s skin and caused him great frustration: the CEO of his rival competitor.

Why did this guy get under Peter’s skin?

It wasn’t because the competitor was a master strategist or found a way to consistently beat Peter’s company in the marketplace. You see, it was well known in industry circles that Peter’s rival spent most of his time on the links playing golf.

Peter couldn’t understand how this CEO could do his job effectively and spend so much time playing golf.

I didn’t have much of an answer for him at the time. In fact, at the time I found the discussion quite funny in many respects. It was interesting to see what really bugged such an accomplished business leader.

Now most everyone knows that a lot of business is done on the golf course. It’s a great way to build relationships – so spending time golfing makes business sense.

I’ve also assumed that the CEOs who do spend a lot of time golfing are so well organized and have such good teams, that they could play several rounds a week, and their company performance would not be affected.

Yet recent research points out that this may not be the case. In fact, my client’s frustration was justified; playing a lot of golf isn’t necessarily a good leadership strategy for a CEO.

Academics at Miami University (Ohio), the University of Alabama and the University of Tennessee found in a study that companies led by CEOs that play a lot of golf do so at the expense of the organizations they lead.

The researchers looked at golf because the researchers found that it was far and away a CEO’s favorite pastime. Using golfing records obtained from the United States Golf Association (USGA) database, which records round scores so that players can establish a handicap, they were able to study the golfing habits of 363 CEOs from the S&P 1500 over a four-year period.

The findings were pretty eye opening.

The study found companies that have CEOs who play 22 rounds or more per year underperform when compared to rival companies with CEOs that do not play golf, or limit their golfing activity. The study also found a number of CEOs who played more than 100 rounds in a year, with one actually playing 146 rounds.

After reading the study, it occurred to me that this isn’t really just about golf. There are many things that can get a CEO to take their eye off the ball, and take them away of what they are really there to do.

For example, some CEOs get absorbed by wealth and the lifestyle that comes with it. So they spend more time worrying about the size of their mansions or the number of luxury cars in their garages rather than how to make their companies successful.

For some other CEOs, it’s fame that gets in the way. You may find these leaders spending most of their time worrying about how to find their way into the media spotlight or shamelessly self-promoting themselves on social media platforms.

However, like my client Peter, some leaders take their eye off the ball when they get consumed by envy and hatred directed toward their competitors. It’s a visceral reflex that can easily cloud their judgment and impair their ability to lead effectively.

We all know that being a CEO is a significant responsibility and it requires one’s full commitment. At the very least, it means spending more time at work leading your company than working on your short game.

This week’s Gut Check asks: is anything taking your eye off the ball?


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About the Author

Vince Molinaro

Vince Molinaro is the Global Managing Director of Strategic Solutions at Lee Hecht Harrison. He is also the author of The Leadership Contract – a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Vince has spent more than 20 years as an adviser to boards and senior executives looking to improve leadership in their organizations.

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