Peter Drucker is considered to be the “father of management.” A quick Google search for him would be well worth your time.

Among his many philosophies was one regarding organizational behavior and norms, and how they relate to talent and expertise: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Simply put, no matter how well thought out an organization’s strategy, if it doesn’t have the culture to support it, then it will fail. Creating a culture isn’t done by purchasing it off a shelf, by hiring a consultant to build it, or by dictating a behavior.

Drucker was the furthest thing from my mind when I attended a clinic for grade school basketball coaches. Rob Miller, a former college basketball player and coach and a principle with Proactive Coaching LLC, alluded to Drucker’s concepts through similar words of an NFL coach.


“Culture is the foundation of success for a team,” Miller said. “Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach Chip Kelly said it a bit differently. He said, ‘Culture beats scheme every day.’ What he was saying [was that] the best Xs and Os can’t consistently beat a team with a strong culture. That is why we hear coaches preach about discipline, hard work and character so much. That’s what allows the strategies to be successful.”

I began to think about golf course superintendents and how they are much like coaches in building teams. They might not have win-loss records, but there is certainly a determination of success or failure. Relating this back to Drucker and Kelly, no matter how well versed the team is in turf management, success won’t be achieved without a culture that emphasizes attention to detail, compliance with regulations, the strict application of accepted scientific principles and the spirit of teamwork.

Miller says creating a strong culture begins with a leadership that’s trusted, sets clear standards of performance and offers a wow factor. With those elements, he says the framework for a strong culture is set, and thus high achievement isn’t obstructed.

Trust must come first, because followers will shut down without a belief in their leader. Miller says trust is built by a leader who has professional competency (skills, knowledge, expertise, philosophy), cares for others, and has the integrity to live up to commitments. Once trust is established, a standard of performance or accountability must be implemented.

Contrary to what some believe, data supports that people want to be challenged to achieve as long as they have the support of their leaders and the rest of the team, Miller says. The wow factor is a bit more difficult to explain, but most people know it when they see it.

The New York Yankees have something they called “the Yankee Way.” The Green Bay Packers, under the legendary Vince Lombardi, had a commitment to winning (remember the embellished quote, “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”). The Los Angeles Lakers had “Showtime,” where success was done with style and flair. The Dallas Cowboys are “America’s Team.”

I can hear superintendents now. “This is turf management, there is no flair in our business.” To the contrary, Adam Garr’s GoPro videos, Matt Shaffer’s grass-covered roof, Chris Bessette’s biodiesel processor, Tom Vlach’s tournament social media machine and Shelia Finney’s garden are examples of doing something different that contributes to overall success.

Miller cautions that a strong culture, though not easy to build, could be even more difficult to maintain. He noted one pitfall could come in the management of relationships. Because of unique personalities, leaders do not treat all situations equally, but they need to be consistent and fair. Trust can erode quickly if those who are talented aren’t disciplined when necessary.

I’d venture to guess that few superintendents consciously wake up worried about creating a solid culture. But observation tells me that most are keenly aware of the importance of having a strong team. The question is: What is being done to ensure that?