It did not take long for me to realize that golf course superintendents are pretty special.
I can’t think of many professions in which a person has to satisfy such a diverse group of people, each of whom has an opinion on how the job should be done. That doesn’t even take into account the fickleness of Mother Nature, who has the biggest influence of all. But from my armchair perspective and 20-plus years of experience, I believe the biggest challenge superintendents face is the never-ending expectation that they meet deadlines and achieve goals.
They simply can’t afford to not have the course ready for opening day. Green speeds must be at a consistent distance. The course must be in prime condition for the members and guests. Pin locations are to be neither too easy, nor too unforgiving. Oh, and the flowers lining the entrance must be in spectacular bloom, too.
I don’t have many suggestions on how to cope with the stress and anxiety that comes with the territory, but an interesting concept is gaining traction and it just might help you change your perspective on this challenge. The idea is the work of Scott Adams, who says that goals are for losers in his book, “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.” Adams is the creator of the comic strip “Dilbert,” so you might recall his satire of life in a micromanaged office. But good satire always has a kernel of truth in it.
Goals are for losers? It’s not an easy concept to grasp at the outset. Haven’t we been told by our parents, teachers, coaches, bosses and everyone else that success is best achieved by establishing goals and measuring our performance against them? Either you reach your goal or you don’t. The job gets done or it doesn’t. Success or failure is clearly defined.
A different take on success
That’s exactly the problem, Adams contends. He believes that setting goals is actually counterproductive to achievement because once we reach the goal, we revel in its completion, but we don’t institutionalize the process it took to get there. Our lives become a series of exercises in which we win or fail. There is no middle ground. We rely on our willpower, which Adams contends is in limited supply, doesn’t last long and doesn’t create systems to help us repeat those successes.
Adams uses weight loss as an example. We can will ourselves to lose weight through food depravation, but rarely does the success last. On the other hand, we can create a systematic approach consisting of better eating habits and regular exercise. We can make informed choices and adopt behaviors that help us lose weight.
The systematic approach eventually becomes ingrained in us, both as individuals and organizations. It can facilitate success and alleviate stress regardless of the assignment because of the checks and balances along the way. As a result, the process you use to get ready for the first drive of the season can also be used to prep for the member-guest. The systematic approach of preparing a plan and budget for the upcoming season can also be used for your attempts to achieve certification.
It is a system rooted in a series of actions that, when completed, leaves you closer to your desired result. Without a systematic approach, the failure to reach a goal is just that – a failure. You go back to square one and start the process over. It’s like taking a cross-country drive without a road map: Once you get lost, it is nearly impossible to get back on track. But if you have a system, even when you fail to reach a goal, you can evaluate where you fell short and make the necessary adjustments.
You know what your work demands better than anyone else. Are there moments of stress when you set out to achieve a goal using an approach that is based exclusively on extreme effort? If so, consider creating a systematic template, which can be applied to a variety of personal and professional projects.
The late Steven Covey wrote in his book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” that you should “begin with the end in mind.” He said we should identify the desired result at the beginning as a means of creating a roadmap to get us there. As a result, our intuition and experience complement the process instead of sabotaging it, and that is a formula for continued success.