"Empowerment" with Ian Dalzell from Huntingdon Valley Country Club

June 20, 2011

Ian Dalzell is the Head Golf Professional at Huntingdon Valley Country Club in suburban Philadelphia. Shortly, after graduating from University of Ulster in Northern Ireland, Ian came to America to become a golf professional. After serving his apprenticeship at a few clubs in upstate New York, he took the 1st Assistant Professional position at Redding CC in Connecticut where he served the membership for four years before accepting the Head Golf Professional position at Hidden Creek Golf Club, NJ. Ian worked a total of nine years at Hidden Creek, the last five as the General Manager & Head Professional before accepting the position at Huntingdon Valley on January 1, 2011. Ian currently serves his association as the Director of Section Affairs with the Philadelphia PGA and has been an invited speaker and facilitator at several PGA Educational Seminars and Conferences over the years. Ian gives us some awesome perspective on the critical nature of empowerment in our golf operations.

What is "empowerment" to you?

Giving staff the ability to make ultimate decisions, to go from being order takers who punch the clock to team members who are vested in the finished experience and feel like they have influence over the daily operations, both by their words and more importantly by their actions. One of the definitions I found online was “to invest with authority” and I think that hits the mark. If you always feel like there is a person above you, then the buck stops somewhere else and there is not that sense of ultimate responsibility. The buck needs to stop with you and when it does it truly feels different.

Were you empowered when you were an assistant professional? How so? How has the empowerment you experienced impacted you today?

Yes, and I try to pay it forward as much as I can. My former boss Sam Olson (Redding CC, CT) did mentor me in the early phase of my career and gave me responsibility when even I was unsure if I was ready for it. That made you act differently, made you think differently, and when the final result is based on your decisions and actions you start to take greater pride or “ownership” of it. It forced me to learn and it ultimately pushed me to be the best professional I could be. The cautionary tale though is that just as with any other relationship in life, you have to have participation from both parties. I have had staff in the past who I empowered to make decisions, but they would shirk the responsibility and ultimately not only learn very little but also not advance their cause of becoming a Head Golf Professional. In short, you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink!

How do you empower your staff? What are any unique practices you utilize to empower them?

Give them ultimate responsibility in various areas – let them run a tournament from start to finish; allow them, if the club is willing, to sit in and even occasionally chair a Golf Committee Meeting; charge them with heading up an Outing from soup to nuts; involve them in decision making and ideas for golf operations improvement. In short you must hand over the keys to the farm and have an element of trust that they will act in accordance with the best interests of the operation in mind. It is not just a catchphrase to say we learn from our mistakes, and sometimes you have to let staff make mistakes which in turn become valuable lessons and shape your future operations.

Can you explain, in your opinion, why empowerment is so important when creating a learning environment for assistant professionals that fosters their growth?

You cannot learn to drive a car if you don’t sit in the driver’s seat. I literally saw a bumper sticker this week that I thought suits this topic. It said “Unless you are the lead dog the scenery never changes”. Kind of apt for this story. You have to feel the heat, take a risk and with that comes great reward.

What negative effects do you perceive as happening if empowerment does not exist in a golf operation?

Empathy, lack of growth on a personal and professional level and an overall loss of focus. We are all, or at least should be, in this business to excel, grow and succeed. If you are not taking on responsibility within your employment and taking initiative to evaluate your operations and make suggestions for improvement, then you are not learning, not growing and not moving in the right direction. If you don’t have goals you don’t have reasons to come into work. A goal without a plan is just a wish...do something about your future and change the direction now!