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Leadership: What We Can Learn from the 2014 Ryder Cup

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American Tom Watson and Irishman Paul McGinley …

 

Two Ryder Cup Captains that couldn’t be more different.

 

Watson – the iconic figure in American golf – the winner of eight major golf championships.

 

McGinley – the little engine that could – a blue collar player with no major wins.

 

Both men are highly respected individuals and good people.

 

Watson and McGinley recently captained their respective American and European teams in the Ryder Cup – one of golf’s most watched events. The result was McGinley’s European team 16 ½ points to Watson’s U.S. team 9 ½ points.

 

How does this result relate to Watson and McGinley?

 

Well, it really is an interesting look at leadership styles and what is most effective in today’s world.

 

What can we learn from the Watson style?

 

Watson brought a style which is sometimes reflective of the star player stepping into a “coaching” role. His approach has hints of the pacesetting and commanding styles, relying little on input from his players, and expecting the players “to just know what to do”. As an icon in the game and someone with great individual personal success, this is a style Watson believed could work. After all, his players are world-class professional golfers – just go and play and get it done! The commanding style, sometimes called the coercive approach is the “do it because I say so” approach with little explanation behind the reasons for doing things. Feedback most often focuses on what people did wrong rather than what they did well. Both the pacesetting and commanding styles can erode spirits and create a negative emotional environment – an environment not conducive to high performance. In a media conference following the final round, American Ryder Cup player Phil Mickelson highlighted that the American players may not have been invested in the process and commented on the lack of communication between Watson and the players. The emotional climate within the American team did not appear to be as positive as it needed to be to perform well.

 

What can we learn from the McGinley style?

 

McGinley brought a style which can be reflective of the blue collar player who has struggled, relied more on others and seen the game from many different perspectives and levels. McGinley brought more of the coaching, affiliative and democratic styles to the European team to ensure a positive emotional climate and building relationships throughout the team. McGinley appeared to “coach” his players through the event, showing a genuine interest is his players and having personal conversations to establish rapport and trust. Through the affiliative style and building personal relationships, he also seemed to get “buy-in” from his players and create a very obvious team harmony. McGinley focused on the emotional needs of his players and helped to create a deep camaraderie among the players and the leader. Finally, McGinley used the democratic approach involving all of the players on his team to offer ideas on how to implement his vision. This requires great listening skills and great overall communication skills. McGinley used the experience and thoughts of his world-class players to give them the feeling that they were a vital part of the process and that he values their opinions.

 

So, does the leadership style reflect the result?

 

In sports, business and in other endeavors it most definitely does. In the case of the Ryder Cup in 2014, it was definitely a factor in creating the right environment and performance climate to help the European team perform at the highest level.

 

From a distance, it seemed obvious that the European team and its leader had more fun, more buy-in and more emotional investment in the process than the U.S. squad. McGinley created a great emotional climate based on commitment and personal relationships. Watson did not quite reach the right emotional climate. Leader and players seemed to be standing apart from each other.

 

A great example of how leadership and applying the right styles can have a major impact on outcomes.

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