Play The Flag, Not Your Swing.

Written by David Pullan

Play The Flag, Not Your Swing.

Last week I had the privilege of coaching an ex England international. In his life post sport he has become a big player in the UK subsidiary of a global organization and has inevitably taken up golf.

The reason he came to me was that when he found himself in front of his global board he wasn’t getting the results that he was used to at a local level. It was like he was banging in hattricks every Saturday for his home club but when he stepped up to representative level people were running rings around him.

As is normal in these situations we talked about the situation and then I put him in front of the camera so that he could present some board papers while I gave my finest impression of a global CEO and grilled him on the value of his ideas.

Within seconds I stopped him as the issue was very clear. And here’s a phrase that you won’t hear often…golf was the answer.

For all of the previous hour I had been facing a vibrant and intelligent man who held my attention with his rigour, humour and genuine care that I understood what he was talking about.

As soon as I turned on the camera and gave him his board papers all this disappeared and I was confronted by a fraction of the man from a minute before.

He’d made a mistake that many golfers make, as well as many communicators.

He was thinking about his swing rather than the flag.

In communication terms this means that he was thinking about how he delivered his message (the swing) rather that whether or not I (the flag) was getting the message. As a result he became stilted and didn’t flow in a way that he had done previously.

I am seeing this more and more often; people are concentrating too hard on how they say what they say rather than whether their audience has received the message or not.

In a round of golf you aren’t judged by how pretty the swing is, you are judged by whether or not the ball gets in the hole.

In communication your audience judges you by whether or not your message lands with them.

Now of course there are some basic communication skills that can help, and McKechnie and I would be happy to point you in the right direction. But the last thing you need to be thinking about when you face your chairperson is whether you are pausing sufficiently or waving your arms about.

As long as you have the basic tools down then all you need to do is focus out onto the target/audience/flag and make sure they are getting what you say.

I could push this analogy to extremes by pointing out that the way you play Pebble Beach will be different to the way you play your local Par 3 but maybe you’d like to get in touch with us about that. 

I’ll see you on the tee again soon.

photo credit: Insurance Institute of Saskatchewan <a href="">;15th Annual CIP Society Golf Tournamen</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>


  • W B Yeats

    'Think like a wise man, but communicate in the language of the people.'