Caddy for Life – Lessons of Leadership

One of my favorite sports authors is John Feinstein who has penned several books delving into the psychology of sports teams or individuals. “A Good Walk Spoiled,” Forever’s Team,” and “Season on the Brink” are just three excellent reads of his. Another one is called “Caddy for Life – The Bruce Edwards Story” and focuses on the wonderful relationship between a caddy and his employer. Edwards died from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), but while he lived he was the successful caddy to two of the greatest golfers of all time – Tom Watson and Greg Norman.  I highly recommend this read as it speaks of how the two sides of the golfer/ caddy relationship can define success or failure.

For those of you who follow golf, Greg Norman may have been one of the most talented golfers ever to play the game. Yet, that did not always translate into success on the highest stage, which is the major tournaments. He did win two British Opens, yet he is more known for his “almost” major wins, than anything else. Mind you, he did win a countless tournaments over the years, yet when the pressure was the greatest, sometimes his internal demons would be too insurmountable. I would add Norman has also gone onto much success in wines and apparel parlaying his nickname and brand “The Great White Shark” due to his go for broke style, blond locks and Australian heritage.

Tom Watson also was one of the more talented golfers, yet he did have the success on the most pressure-filled stages winning 5 British Opens, 2 Masters and 1 US Open. In fact, he almost won another British Open late in his 50’s a little over two years ago, which says an awful lot. Many have said he was one of the most prolific and consistent ball strikers, but what made him win was his magic with the putter. Yet, he also had a demon and that is one of alcoholism, which has an impact on your ability to putt. This is important to the story. When he stopped making putts and achieving less success, he encouraged Edwards to go caddy for Norman so he could make more money. Professional caddies get a percentage of the player’s winnings.

Yet, my purpose for raising this issue is more about the leaders rather than the caddy. Edwards was very good at his job and knew how to encourage and club (give the correct yardage and suggest a club) the golfer. Golf is one of the most transparent of sports professions. Your results are obvious to all, so it is very hard to hide from failure or not let others see your success. The fragility of the ego is crucial and Edwards was quite good at the psychology of the caddy role. However, that can only go so far.

Watson was the ultimate golfer to work with. Per Edwards, Watson would ask for his input, talk it over and digest the advice. There are so many variables – where should the ball land, what trajectory should it have, what is the distance, what are the wind conditions, what kind of lie is the ball in and what other obstacles present themselves. Also, how is the golfer hitting the ball that day? Those five inches between the ears are the most vital distance on the course. Yet, Watson said once he had the input from Edwards, it was his decision to hit the shot. So, at that point it was his success or failure. This is of vital importance as will be noted later. He solicited and got the advice he needed, but then he made his decision and lived with the consequences. It should be noted that Watson’s demeanor was even-tempered, which facilitated this thought process.

Norman, for all his talents, was wound a little tighter than Watson. He would do the same things as Watson soliciting and getting input from Edwards. Yet, when a poor shot was hit or he felt Edwards had talked him into a club selection, he would lay some blame on the caddy. When Norman was on there were few better. Yet, he could unravel when things went awry. There are numerous famous stories about how close he came to the greatest of golfing glory. Many of those stories were how snake-bit he was when his opponents chipped in from off the green to beat him. Yet, he put himself in those positions by not sealing the deal earlier. His most famous collapse was when he lost a six shot lead on the final day of the Masters, one of the most painful days of watching golf I have ever witnessed.

Norman is the most human and gracious of people. I think that is one of the reasons people hold him in esteem. Yet, as an employer, he did not routinely demonstrate it is very important to solicit and get input, but once you have that input, it is your decision. It is not ironic, that Watson’s demeanor was more suitable for winning on the most pressure filled stages. Golf at that level has a lot of subtlety and complexity. If we translate this to other business or governmental leadership decisions, it shows that leaders need to get all the input they can from reputable sources. They need to find those Bruce Edwards who will offer their advice.

Why is this important? If people feel they will be blamed for offering advice, human nature tells us what will happen – they will stop giving their opinion. Thinking back on a merger discussion where I was a more junior person in a room with twenty leaders of this one company who was debating on whether to increase their offer price on Round Two of the bidding, the CEO was asking for advice, yet no one would go out on a limb and say we should buy this company and offer what it takes. The CEO was begging for this, but the history showed that people had been fired for mistakes at this company. So, no one staked a position.

One of the more telling things I have ever read about our President was said by Warren Buffett who employs many leaders at the firms he buys. He said President Obama is the best editor of information he has ever seen. He solicits and gleans everyone’s opinion in meetings and then makes the decision. I believe Governor Romney does that in his business dealings and likely did that in his work as governor. Yet, I get the impression he did not get that from his campaign advisors. I think they were offering information based on unsound data and advice on what they perceived the real world thought of the GOP platform. I think he was getting biased input from people within the Republican Bubble (as Bill Maher has coined) and he firmly believed he was going to win and was truly amazed when he did not.

Eventually, Norman and Edwards parted ways. Edwards found his way back to Watson on the Senior Tour where they both had success. I say both as Edwards represents what a leader wants and needs – a competent advisor who has a keen way of analyzing data and offering his opinion. He worked best with an employer who totally respected that talent and gave his advice due credence. Yet, the leader made the call. To illustrate one final point, when people say anyone could have made the final decision to get Osama Bin Laden, the answer is no. Obama gleaned all of the input from his generals and advisors, remembered history and overruled their recommended tactics to get him. He said we need to show the American people we got Bin Laden and he sent two helicopters rather than one.

Great leaders need input. Great leaders need people who feel empowered to give input. Great leaders recognize that they need advisors who know what they are talking about and are armed with information. Great leaders make it easier for this to happen. They make it easier for the Bruce Edwards of the world to offer their input without repercussions. I have witnessed countless times when leaders have not done these things and ended up with poor decisions. They do not need “yes-men” or “yes-women.” They need to find the Bruce Edwards of both genders and ask what they think. We will all be better for it.

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20 thoughts on “Caddy for Life – Lessons of Leadership

  1. Too many times in my previous life in “Corporate World” I witnessed the shoot the messenger mentality, resulting in a slew of bad decisions and actual long-term business failures. This was nowhere more apparent than in the electronics industry, where competition was keen, and ego’s were through the roof. The list of companies long gone due to poor decisions and lack of input is long, but a few favorites that stick in my mind include Ampex, Silicon Graphics, Beckman Instruments, and HP. Some of these remain, but in name only. All were leaders at their time, and all gave their leadership positions away due to ego’s run amok. This was Norman’s problem, a lack of ability to take advice, and more importantly, to take responsibility.

    I can’t be so sure about the Romney campaign. Personally, I think he was just clueless as to who his audience truly was, and his record of constantly changing his message is what ultimately did him in. As I wrote another blogger, Romney lost for a very simple reason. No one knew what he actually stood for.

    In reading “Reckless Endangerment” by Morganstern, and “Confidence Men” by Susskind, one message about Obama that comes through is his willingness to continuously re-address a question, “re-litigate” it in his terms, to the point that the time for taking action has passed by. Another trait of a great leader is to also recognize that one will never have enough information, or complete information, but there comes a time when a decision is required, and the leader, after taking all the input, has to stand up and say enough, this is my decision, and move on. And also be willing to say, “well, that didn’t work out, lets try this” when things go wrong, and move on.

    Over analysis brings paralysis.

    Great post, and I am a long time Watson fan, and believe one of his greatest moments was the chip in on the 17th at Pebble all those years ago.

    • “Over analysis brings paralysis”. Dwight Eisenhower understood that quite well – particularly in his capacity of Allied Commander. Another key to this as I think we all agree is to surround yourself with the best people who are not afraid to speak up about their thoughts.

      • Donna, I agree totally. I had an old boss who used to say about the consulting business – “our business is pretty simple, hire smart people and have them go see your clients.” With that said, I saw a parade of CEOs try to mess up that simple formula. These CEOs did not surround themselves with people who knew the business and would question them. This company had five CEOs in eight years. I do not embellish this story.

    • Thanks for the well written and thoughtful comment. Jack Welch liked to tout the ability to make a decision with 3 or 4 pieces of good information. What was it Patton said – “a good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.” By the way, all good examples on the failed techology front. Thanks again, BTG

  2. This was one of Lincoln’s great strengths as well. He listened to everyone around him, even people he hated and completely disagreed with. That is extremely rare these days. Good post!

    • Thanks Hugh. Someone told me Obama is said to have answered the question on what two books he would take to the White House. I think he said the Bible and “Lincoln – Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Good comment, BTG

  3. “He said President Obama is the best editor of information he has ever seen. He solicits and gleans everyone’s opinion in meetings and then makes the decision. I believe Governor Romney does that in his business dealings and likely did that in his work as governor. Yet, I get the impression he did not get that from his campaign advisors. I think they were offering information based on unsound data and advice on what they perceived the real world thought of the GOP platform. I think he was getting biased input from people within the Republican Bubble (as Bill Maher has coined) and he firmly believed he was going to win and was truly amazed when he did not….Great leaders need input. Great leaders need people who feel empowered to give input. Great leaders recognize that they need advisors who know what they are talking about and are
    armed with information. Great leaders make it easier for this to happen. They make it easier for the Bruce Edwards of the world to offer their input without repercussions. I have witnessed countless times when leaders have not done these things and ended up with poor decisions. They do not need “yes-men” or “yes-women.” Could not agree more. I had some other thoughts in my recent posts as well as to reasons why the GOP has lost so badly. Great post!

    • The key to success of great leaders is to willingly take input, without ramifications, and then go forward with the best decision making possible. If a CEO is unwilling to surround himself with people who question him and his decisions, then he will ultimately fail. Guys like Thain, Lewis, Fuld, etc from the financial crisis were all poster boys for big egos and not listening.

      A good leader also knows his own weaknesses, and then goes out and surrounds himself with the best possible people for these weak areas. He also recognizes that if his subordinates succeed, so does he. They are not competitors, they are his stepping stones to further promotion and greatness.

      You’ve started a great thread of conversation, BTG, thanks for that and have a great day1

      • Interesting point, but no I don’t think so. I think people put up with Jobs as he was helping re-write history. They would not have put up with his bullshit otherwise. Plus, I think Jobs as a leader was closer to the action that people actually saw the brilliance of what he could bring to the table. In other words, they tolerated him because of the pursuit of excellence and elegance and they saw it first hand. Jobs also needed someone to manage things, so he could be the creative force he was. He did drive many people away, though, with his style. Good comments. Thanks for reading and offering him up. BTG

      • Barney, thanks for the great comments. Lewis also drove people away, so the ones he needed left because of his nature. I forgot Thain’s predecessor at ML, but he also drove his people away as he would not listen to people questioning about some of the bad bets they were making.

        You are right on about making sure your people succeed. I read a quote from some source which resonates with this point. A great leader deflects the credit to others while a bad leader assumes credit even when it is not deserved. Thanks for writing, BTG

  4. Regarding Ms. Neutron’s comments, no, Jobs was the antithesis of a successful manager. I personally met him years ago when he and Wozniak were first starting out, and were scrounging parts wherever they could.

    Jobs stole lots of money from Woz, who really was the technical brains behind the initial Apple success. He badly abused people, particulary those whom he used to get ahead and then no longer needed. He stole technology, (he stole the mouse from Xerox’s PARC lab in the bay area). He wrote his own PR, and believed every word. In any of the Apple presentations where he presented new products, did you ever hear him credit another human being for the MAC, the iPad, the Nano, or other device?

    He was the devil as a leader, quick to blame and fire, even quicker to take credit. He delegated nothing, berated people constantly and publicly. He was everything a truly good leader is not.

    Why Jobs is suddenly ordained with business sainthood is way beyond me. If character or integrity were height, he could easily walk under the belly of a snake, wearing a High Hat. As you can tell, I am no fan of Steve Jobs.

    • Barney, with all due respect, what is the point of business? Is it how to win friends and be the most popular at parties?

      Corporations are non-breathing entities whose sole purpose is making money. They do that by being better than their competition in every possible way. If Steve Jobs was, as you claim, ..”the antithesis of a successful manager”.. then you better alert the New York Stock Exchange, a billion or so Apple admirers and all those whose lives have been enriched as a direct result of Steve Jobs passing this way.

      I fear, in a way, you are mixing metaphors here. Jobs wasn’t “ordained with business sainthood”. Everybody understands what a stinker he was. If you are looking for saints go to church. If you are looking for examples of leaders of corporations that succeeded and changed the world…. that was Steve Jobs & Apple.

      I have observed that there are two basic kinds of people. Team players and those who wouldn’t be caught dead joining a team. The former never understands the later. The later understands the former all too well and makes great use of that understanding. The former thinks “being liked” is important. The later understands that there is a time and a place for everything.

      • Good discussion. There is a Harvard professor whose name is Kotter I believe who has focused on successful leadership as a two dimensional matrix being a leader on one axis and being a manager on another axis. The paragon is having someone who is in the upper right box exhibiting both leadership and managerial expertise. Yet, often those two characteristics are not evenly weighted in the same person. Using Jobs as a good example, he is a great visionary leader, but not the strongest of managers. Per his biography and history he flourished most when he was the visionary leader, but had a very strong operations guy. So, I believe the reality is while Jobs deserved an abundance of credit, he was significantly aided by others, whether they got credit or not. What I found interesting in his book, is people would tell him why his idea would not work, he would belittle them and call them stupid and then come back a week later with this inspired variation which was the one they mentioned. People tolerated him because of the groundbreaking technology he hastened and abetted. This is good discussion and I appreciate it greatly. Thanks all, BTG

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