by Jim Corbett

It’s a jungle out there! But that doesn’t necessarily mean the laws of the jungle are the ones that will get you to your goal the fastest. In fact, it may be quite the opposite if the particular jungle you inhabit is the world of business.

You see, “civilization” is our attempt to replace the laws of the jungle with something that incorporates the contributions of more than just those with the biggest fangs or sharpest claws. And when civilization is functioning at its highest level the thing that makes it operate most efficiently is our highly developed code of “etiquette.” (At first glance this may seem contradictory to the old notion that “money makes the world go round,” but it’s not. Money still does make the world go round, but etiquette lubricates the wheels and eliminates the friction that would otherwise bring the whole thing to a grinding halt.)

If business executives want to see a model of etiquette that has worked effectively for centuries in enabling wide varieties of people to get along and do their best, they can look to a source that is probably quite familiar to them. Many of the answers they seek are found in the game of golf, and particularly in the principles of golf etiquette. That’s right, golf etiquette — the code of behavior that motivates good golfers to respect others, to respect the environment in which they play and to respect the integrity of the game itself.

In order to understand the basic goals of the typical American business executive, let’s examine the typical American company’s mission statement. When distilled to its purest form the mission statement consists of the following basic components (usually lined up in this order):

  • We’ll provide the greatest value in our products/services;
  • We’ll adhere to the highest ethical standards;
  • We’ll treat our co-workers with respect;
  • We’ll contribute to the well being of our community;
  • We’ll achieve the greatest return to investors.
  • At their essence, those are the same principles that form the foundation of good golf and good golf etiquette. Let’s examine these concepts closely to see how the principles parallel one another in business and in golf.

We’ll Create The Greatest Value in Our Products/Services

Creating the greatest value does not always mean providing the best product or service that is available. It implies a balance between the quality of the product and the price the marketplace is willing to pay for the product. Therefore both J. C. Penney’s and Norstrom’s can boast they are the best value (best products at their price-points).

In golf, business people are constantly forced to choose between playing the kind of golf we would like to play and the game we are forced to play given that we have to balance our golf practice time with working at our jobs and occasionally visiting our families. So instead of playing “high quality golf” we play “high value golf” (i.e., “Since I only get to play every other weekend and I don’t even get to take one practice swing between rounds, an 89 is not a bad score. — Hey, let’s see Tiger Woods do THAT!).

We’ll Adhere To The Highest Ethical Standards 

There are basically two places where the ethical standards of a company can be judged — in their policies and in their practices. In the not-too-distant past one could easily observe moral breaches in the general policies of many companies (e.g., in their hiring practices or in their approaches to environmental issues). But due to certain social reforms and pressures it is now much less likely to find overall corporate policies that do not articulate squeaky clean policies in most regards.

The problem, therefore must reside in the implementation of these policies by individuals who may be trying to promote their own personal agendas — agendas like getting bonuses or promotions. When people put their own advancement ahead of that of the company (often referred to as “greed”) the company most often suffers.

Golfers often face similar challenges when keeping score. It’s hard to imagine a golfer who has an overall policy of cheating or wantonly violating the rules of the game, in fact, most who love the game profess the greatest respect for and strictest adherence to the rules. Yet there are often times when people rely a bit too heavily on the “foot mashie” or the “Mulligan” to advance their own personal agenda — like keeping that handicap low.

When golfers try to put their own needs ahead of those of the game itself, it is the game that suffers. Business people and golfers, however, who adhere to the highest ethical standards are the ones who command the greatest respect from their colleagues.

We’ll Treat Our Co-Workers With Respect 

A company is a community of people, hopefully working toward a common goal. If you want to motivate people to their highest level of productivity, there is no better way than to treat them with respect. By providing employees with safe working conditions, clear expectations and reasonable rewards for their efforts, the community, as a whole, can prosper.

Companies that understand the benefits of helping and supporting one another to accomplish their common goals, demonstrate respect for all employees regardless of level within the organization. And people have proved over and over that when treated with respect and given the opportunity, there is no goal that cannot be achieved.

In golf, Rule 10 dictates the order of play. On the first tee the order of play is determined randomly (everyone has an equal opportunity). After everyone has teed off the order of play is determined by who is farthest from the hole. By letting the player who is “away” hit first golfers keep the group moving ahead at the same pace, and they provide safety to the group by not letting some players get out in front of those who are hitting.

But most importantly, they show respect for those who are struggling within the group. The group does not abandon the poorest players to be picked up by another foursome coming up behind them. They recognize that all players within the group have value and are welcome.

On each new tee the person who had the best score on the previous hole hits first, which is referred to as “having the honor.” In this way golfers recognize outstanding performance. Rule 10 is based on the same concept used by a company that provides a mentoring program for new workers and has a “President’s Club” for its top sales people.

By respecting the needs of each participant, the community is stronger and the overall goals are met, whether it is in business or in golf.

We’ll Contribute To The Well-Being Of Our Community 

Companies that understand their commitment to the communities in which they reside are revered by their neighbors. They participate in the community because they realize their own kids will one day inherit their community and they want it to be someplace worth having.

Good golfers also appreciate the fact that they play golf in a beautiful environment and in order to keep it beautiful each golfer must contribute. When golfers hit a shot from the tee or fairway and they dislodge a divot, they know it is their responsibility to replace or repair that divot. If a mark is made as a ball hits the green or as a golfer hits out of a bunker, the good golfer immediately repairs the mark so no one who comes behind will have to putt over an uneven surface or land in a footprint or blast mark in the bunker.

Why? Because those golfers know others will inherit the course after them and those that come behind are entitled to find the course in its original, pristine condition. Respect for the environment and the community demonstrates an advanced sense of responsibility for both the company and the golfer.

We’ll achieve the greatest return for our investors

When all is said and done, business is about providing a return. But there is more of a return than simply money. I have worked with a number of people who are well past the point of needing any more money. They are wealthy beyond most people’s wildest dreams, yet every day they show up for work.

In fact, they don’t just “show up,” they come in with a tremendous enthusiasm for the day ahead. The reason they do is because they get a bigger return than just money.

Sure, there are some people who think that business is just a bunch of cut-throat, greedy, money-grabbers, and if that is your view the business world would certainly be a terrible place to spend your life. But many that I know are drawn to the constant challenges, the thrill of overcoming defeat and the exhilaration of success. They understand and love the nuances of the game.

Golf is the same. For some it seems like a meaningless, exasperating exercise — Mark Twain’s “good walk spoiled.” But for those who recognize the rhythm and the subtleties of the game, the history, traditions, and the rich lessons of life that can be learned from golf, the returns are plentiful and there is no game like it.

Business and Golf — The Perfect Twosome