Thoughts on Leadership

by Brian Dobak
June 14, 2011

Leadership is an intangible ability that not everybody is gifted with. However, it can be developed. Leadership is such a broad term. Leaders come in all kinds of different faces, sizes, and shapes. The golf business has many leaders, and they will grow in number as the business continues to evolve into…a business. However it has its fair share of those that lack leadership skills. Hopefully the following entry will give you a broad perspective on what makes a great leader in our business.


Some people want everything done their way. Their approach stifles the creative power of the rest of the staff. No matter how great the project/assignment looked or read, if he doesn’t do it, then it isn’t good enough. A great leader doesn’t teach their followers how to be successful by doing things his way. A great leader teaches followers how to be successful by doing things their own way. This is what empowerment provides.


Much can be learned from the game of Chess, like foresight, circumspection, and caution.
Whether they know it or not, some people want to run their golf operation very similar to the game of Chess. These people can be characterized as managers more than leaders. They definitely have some leadership traits; however they definitely fall on the side of “manager”. Chess is as individual of a game as there is. In Chess, you are literally in full control of your progress, whereas golf, although known as an individual sport, we are not really in full control. Often weather can take control of our progress, our caddy can impede on our decisions, and other outside agencies can have an effect on our performance. Because of their micro-management and their apparent desire to do most of the work themselves, you can tell they are always trying to position their staff (much like Chess) in the correct places for them. A great leader doesn’t position his followers for them. A great leader teaches their followers how to successfully position themselves on their own.

Mold by Experience

As we grow and learn as golf professionals, people don’t mold us. Our experiences are what mold us. Some people will try to mold you, but it just won’t happen. This dynamic can even slow your learning curve. For example, take an assistant professional who never has to do anything from start to finish, whom everything is always done for him. So when the time does come for him to run a show, he doesn’t know what to do. Assistants must be given the reigns to something, i.e. a tournament. If not, then they’ll never develop any confidence and they’ll never know how to run a tournament and never develop a philosophy on it. We develop our philosophies through experience because our experiences inspire us. Nobody can develop our philosophies for us. If someone gave me a scripted philosophy to use in an interview, it wouldn’t work because there is no inspiration behind it because I didn’t actually experience it. Great leaders don’t mold their followers. Great leaders allow their followers to evolve and mold themselves - to think, act, and react for themselves. To develop their own philosophies based on their own experiences.

Envision Success and Involve Others in It

Some people are insecure in their positions. The confidence they exude is a smoke-screen for their insecurities. It is almost as if they sit down, think about, and make a list of all the different ways they could fail and lose their job, and then do whatever they can possibly do to not “commit” those acts of failure. This mentality is a far cry from the way in which we should be inclined to think. Instead of making a list of ways to fail, how about making a list of ways to succeed. Great leaders don’t try and avoid failure. By just trying to avoid failure, you will end up avoiding “success” to in the process. Great leaders embrace inevitable mistakes, they envision success, and instead of solving problems on their own, they involve others in working through the failures and reaching the vision.

Top-Down Relationship

Great leadership is a top-down relationship, not ground-up. The truly successful leaders that I have seen in this business are the ones that (whether they know they are doing it or not) actively come down to the level of his/her staff. When the employees on the “front-line” can relate to the Head Professional, that is when inspirational leadership begins. There are too many people out there that think that, to be perceived as a leader, they have to be “larger than life” to their staff, “above” them, “above” doing dirty work, or they have to be constantly perched in their office to be differentiated from their staff, or they have to be perceived by their staff as always right. The great leaders admit when they are wrong. Great leaders come out of their office and onto the “front-line”. Great leaders don’t shy away from the dirty work. Great leaders come down to the level of their staff. Great leaders are not “larger than life” to their staff, rather they are imperfect, humble, and for lack of a better word – normal.

Speaking of the Top

While we’re on the subject of “the top”, take this as food for thought. A great leader encourages leadership at all levels. It works today when leaders release decision-making power and put it into the hands of people actually doing the work. Over-dependence on one person at the top stifles leadership initiative and resourcefulness at all levels. You might ask, why should I put myself out, take a risk, or exercise initiative, that’s the leaders job. Valuable talents within all of us are held in check by the belief that leadership at the top is what makes for success, not the contribution of those lower in the organizational chart. When we place our complete trust in those at the top to “fix things”, we fall into the trap of expecting someone else to fix things for us. It is the leader’s responsibility to make sure this culture does not exist. Everyone is a leader.

Leadership is Stewardship

There may be a better term for successful leadership. Stewardship is operating in service, rather than control, of those around us. Leadership is not about getting others to serve us or our purposes - no matter how noble, right, and good they are. Leadership is about abandoning self-interest to serve those we lead, this to is stewardship. Be careful of “leaders” who just want to be well known. Self serving interests will always stifle their success and sometimes even the success of those around them, whether it is today, tomorrow, or the next.

Implementing vs. Cultivating

Instead of implementing a structured system that is designed to control the employees, great leaders will cultivate a structured system that is designed to allow the employees to be in control of themselves. “Implement” as a verb means to place into effect, to perform, or to carry out a procedure. “Cultivate” means to grow, raise up, or produce. With that said, cultivating is a process. It takes time for staff to find their identity in the golf operation, let alone their identity as golf professionals, and be in control of themselves. Managers implement, great leaders cultivate a process and trust it, and they give their staff the space required to be in control of themselves and grow an identity as a staff member and a golf professional.

A former boss once told me that because of how people-oriented our business is, “our level of success can be directly related to our leadership ability”. But it’s important to understand that we can’t fake leadership. We can put on a “uniform” of leadership on the outside but what is inside will always prevail, whether it is today, tomorrow or the next. We can read all of the leadership books we want and think like a leader all we want, but if we don't start acting like leaders, we'll miss the boat and we'll help our staff members miss their boat as well.