Playing professional golf for a number of years, I know the concept of “Squirrel!” – distractions left and right pulling me away from what was fundamentally important. Everyone seemed to have a theory in golf – and if you have a look at the number of books written about the game – you’ll find a million different spins. The Golf Magazines seem to find something to write about each month, year confused golfer after year – when the game is fundamentally boring – grip, stance, alignment, posture, swing motion – and personalize to our own DNA. The thing is, golfers don’t seem to be getting better. The numbers suggest that golfers have only marginally improved the past 50 years – and you could argue that the huge improvement in equipment has made the marginal difference

Compare this to leadership where the “Squirrel!” factor also seems to be alive and well. Have you seen the number of books on leadership at the local book store? And, each time I visit the store, it seems to have grown. A little research highlights that there have been over 20,000 books written on leadership. Combine that with the articles and other info and the volume of information is staggering … and confusing.

You decide if all of this leadership information is helping according to Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace taking into consideration the 100 million people in America who hold full-time jobs:

  • 30 million (30%) of employees are actively committed to doing a good job
  • 50 million (50%) of employees merely put their time in and are not engaged
  • 20 million (20%) are actively disengaged acting out their discontent in counterproductive ways, negatively influencing their coworkers, missing days on the job, and driving customers away through poor service.

Like golf, isn’t leadership pretty fundamental too? It seems golfers and leaders really are subject to the Squirrel! effect – the new, shiny theory that promises to turn you as a golfer or you as a leader into the next big thing. Whether it’s Golf Digest for golfers or Fast Company for leaders, the latest and greatest attracts attention, suggests hope and is the new solution to our problems.

Look in the mirrowIn our work with leaders, our experience assessing thousands of people tells us that only 2 out of 10 people have an adequate level of self-awareness to be a high performer in leadership. Translated, 8 out of 10 people can’t fundamentally lead themselves so how can they possibly lead others? Aren’t we putting the cart before the horse when we’re presenting all of these great leadership theories to help leaders to lead others when a look in the mirror should be the first step?

Warren Bennis, widely regarded as a pioneer of the contemporary field of Leadership Studies, in “On Becoming a Leader” has the central message of “you can’t become a leader until you know who you are. It’s that simple.”

Although it’s boring, the fundamentals, rolling up the sleeves and an inward focus are the basic steps to growth and achievement … in everything.