Presence, stamina, and fear
Those who know me will confirm that I talk about golf when I am not talking about family or business.
I first stepped onto a golf course over 40 years ago. I wanted a fun and engaging hobby, and golf was so abundant in my beautiful country of birth, Scotland.
Well, I got the fun and engaging part in spades, before it got very serious when I took up the sport professionally after playing for my country at an amateur level. What I did not expect were lessons I apply to my professional life to this day.
Three things are a consistent in the beautiful sport of golf: presence, stamina, and fear.
I think about these things frequently in my role as Chief Executive Officer at the Alliance Fund. In my more than quarter century of operating at board level, I’ve experienced how presence, stamina, and fear impacted me, the team members around me and the companies we strove for success within. I also see it often when it comes to the challenges our perspective shareholders face when they are considering joining our collective.
When someone is attempting to outperform you – as an example in our competitive arena, be them regulated or not – your mind is not concerned with how they operate. You are not slowing yourself or your team down by focusing on their strengths and weaknesses. You are, present and focused on your own strengths as a business and how to amplify those strengths whilst addressing any weaknesses, to be the best of breed.
Golf certainly taught me to stay ‘in the moment’ whilst targeting the end result and it has vastly helped my career in business. If I had found myself caught up in what my competitors were doing, then there is no way I would have reached an international level.
The critically important element in business, however, requires that presence and focus at all times. It may be a substantial decision to make in rapid fashion as an attractive asset will not sit there on market for long, or a crucial strategic decision on geographical focus, or a difficult conversation with someone on the team to improve their performance. The best leaders are able to put aside interruptions in a very respectful way and focus on what is critical at that given moment. This requires ruthless prioritisation and self-control, but a sharp focus on the most important issues is the only way to drive real change and achieve great results.
Golfers adore to hit the course, and segue from the driving range or practice area. Hobby golfers use the driving range and practice areas to warm up, whereas professional golfers use them to become part of the highest standard. Part of that is building the stamina for repetitious success in what we do, swing after swing. There is no resting place on a golf course in a professional environment, the holes and swings keep on coming. The stamina built on the driving range is what gets you through those highly focused 4 days and 72 holes in competitive golf and if that stamina level matches a high swing quality, then it’s what takes you to the winning circle.
Stamina is one of the most underrated qualities required in building a business with long term sustainable success. We are constantly challenged with executive decisions that will have a bearing on the success for us and our shareholder participants, portfolio performance, and finding the next big thing for return on investment with acute security. The reality is that takes time, its takes sustained quality and it takes consistent laser focus. What matters is lifting yourself up and surrounding yourself with people who can help and aid and energise the environment you work in on a daily basis. There are no better characteristics of future success than fortitude, concentration, and stamina.
I remember well like it was only yesterday, standing on the first tee at my first tournament playing for my country. My knees, which were in great condition as an excited sixteen-year-old, decided to shake. It was no different to the hundreds of competitive first tees I had stood on previously from a hobby start to a then amateur international. It was different though, the flag of my country was on my glove, on my bag and on my caddie’s apron. Suffice to say, on a course I knew like the back of my hand, I performed dreadfully. Saved by my playing partner I learned that day that if I let the fear win, I would underperform. I seemed to learn fast as we ended up reaching the final and albeit we did not win the final, I had won so much more in experience of how to control my fear, and even to face it head on.
We rarely talk about fear in the context of business, or investment, or development of products, or distribution and delivery. Yet, it’s there. We are after all, only human they say! The biggest opportunities I’ve missed in my career stemmed from fear; fear of losing a big contract, fear of entering an emerging market, fear of competition. People in general do not like to talk about it, its perceived by many as a weakness, as fear creates the loneliest and toughest of times for the majority of CEOs. When the fear comes straight at you, and your heart is beating through your chest, and there’s no other option, you can run away and avoid that fear, or you can take a deep breath, relax, and embrace it.
My team here at the Alliance Fund are invited when they join the company, to go on a team building event, usually sky diving, abseiling or a race track day.
I will leave you to consider why.