Politics are everywhere, and I’m not talking about what’s happening nationally. Every day, whether you’re dealing with your staff, your members or your club’s board of directors, you’re playing politics. What you say, how you say it, to whom, when, where … Which is why, for you, “all politics is local.”
However, while our industry is keen to train us on everything from growing grass to getting a job, there’s almost no one out there to help you navigate the political jungle that is every golf course and club. Just like playing tournament golf, if you’ve never been in a political situation before, you don’t know how you’ll react (or hit the ball).
So, let me give you the benefit of 35-plus years in golf, from mowing greens to sitting on committees and hiring superintendents like you. If I sound a little paranoid, it’s based on experience — and on my favorite definition of “politics,” told to me by a golf bigwig from a previous generation: “Poli” means “many,” and “tics” are blood-sucking insects. Got it?
Never fully trust anyone
As I said, I’m a little bit paranoid. But remember, no matter how much you want to believe that someone is your friend, or is looking out for you, he or she may have their own agenda.
You have one job
One and only one: Serve your members. Never forget that, and never think that you are one of them. There’s a big difference between someone being friendly and someone being a friend, so be aware when a member, or anyone for that matter, seems to want to be something more than you think they should. In the end, as I was reminded many times, “you’re just staff.”
There are no simple answers
One of the biggest parts of your job is answering other peoples’ questions, particularly those of your members and your bosses. But there’s a lot to giving not only smart answers, but the right answers.
- When someone asks you a “yes or no” question, there are only two answers. Your opportunity to explain, expound and give an opinion is effectively cut off. But we all know that yes or no aren’t always what we want to say. So, when asked an uncomfortable “yes or no,” respond with a question of your own: “Why are you asking me this?” Put the onus back on the questioner to explain what they’re really looking for, and also buy you some time. Just as bad is when someone says, “You agree with me on this, right, Tim?” Be careful how you respond.
- When someone starts a conversation with “What is your opinion on …” know that their mind is already made up. They already have their answer. Respond with the facts as you know them. If you don’t have all the information, think before speaking. Who is this person? What am I getting into? Where is he or she coming from? What do they want? Very often, “I don’t know, let me get back to you” is the best answer of all. Don’t be dismissive of the question (or the questioner). Say that what you’ve been asked is important and you need to do some research. Then do the research and get back to that person, as soon as possible, with a reasoned response.
- When someone is asking a question, don’t think about your response until they are done. In short, listen — really listen — to the question. This gives you a chance to hear the entire question, gives you a chance to think and formulate a good answer, and shows the questioner that you’re taking them seriously. For many people, listening is a lost art. Pay attention, make eye contact and really listen. You’ll be surprised how popular it makes you. (It also makes you look smart.)
- Lastly, don’t answer the question before it’s asked.
In the boardroom
At some point, you’re going to be in front of your board or some other group of successful people who think they know a lot more about what you do than they actually do. How you look and speak to them can be critical to your success, both short and long term. If you’re nervous in front of crowds, take a public speaking class. If you don’t own a suit or at least good pants and a blue blazer, get them. Your appearances in any boardroom-type situation can mean a lot.
- Due diligence. Or “do your homework.” Use Google or ask others about the people you will be dealing with and talking to. Find out where they’ve worked and what they did, what they like to do, where their prejudices might lie. You want to learn about them so you can: 1.) form a good professional relationship and 2.) know where they’re coming from.
- You’re probably not going to want to talk and act in front of the board as you do with your peers, assistants and staff. First, you’re not the boss to the board. Second, be careful of your language. Third, really watch your language. Boardroom behavior and personality is an acquired art, honed from observing, listening and preparing.
- Be mindful of your body language — hands, facial expressions, body position. Unfortunately, I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve. On my face, actually, as my expression is a dead giveaway of what I’m really thinking and feeling. I’ve worked on this for years and learned to always look both interested but neutral. Always keep your emotions in check and be mindful of your place in the room or at the table.
- Don’t cry wolf. If a big project or the weather has thrown you a curve, be careful how you state your case. Don’t go overboard, don’t make it bigger than it is. Be truthful about what happened and in giving timelines, costs and assessments of what needs to be done. In and out of the boardroom, sometimes falling on your sword for the little things isn’t worth it. Pick your fights, setting some aside for later while just ignoring others. You want to win the war, even if you lost a couple of battles along the way. Seeing the big picture can help protect your future.
Around the club
- Don’t take sides. Never talk to one member about another. Ever. If the discussion is about someone else, listen without agreeing or saying anything negative. And if asked your opinion, the only smart response is, “It’s not my place to say.”
- Be wise when you socialize. There are going to be times you’ll have to be out in social settings with club members. My advice: Don’t drink. You may think a single beer or glass of wine is fine, but all it takes is one detractor to see you with a drink in your hand to start the rumor mill. Same after a board meeting, even a round of golf. Be careful where you tread and with whom you share a cocktail.
- Finally, always remember this: The golf course does not belong to you. It’s fine to take pride in your work and the course itself. But at the end of the day, no matter how wrong you think a decision might be, it’s not yours. Even if you’re presented all the facts and made the strong case, you could still lose the argument. As I said at the top, you’re just staff.
- But even with the above, never, ever respond with, “It’s your club, I’ll do whatever you want.” Sore losers who let their emotions get the better of them will soon be looking for new jobs.