Ryder Reflections and applying the lessons

I had to smile when Nigel Farage was asked about the Ryder Cup during a radio interview last week. I could swear the words, “I support Europe” were uttered through gritted teeth by the plain-speaking leader of UKIP, but in fairness he did explain that while he “loved Europe” he positively detested the EU!

Similarly strong opinions were expressed by American golfer Phil Mickleson during the post-match press conference, as he laid the blame for his team’s battering squarely at the door of team captain Tom Watson. This seemed a little harsh, especially as Captain Tom was sat just a short putt away at the same table.

While the golf provides great drama, the Ryder Cup is also a wonderful exposition of leadership and team dynamics. The contest (and the Mickleson controversy) will surely produce a flurry of “lessons-we-can-learn” blogs, but I felt some sense of justification for throwing in my two penneth – I saw Watson perform at first hand when I refereed his game against Sam Torrance in the 1989 Ryder Cup Match at the Belfry. A long time ago I admit, but still an abiding memory.

The magic of teamwork

Why is it that the European side seem to do the whole team thing so well, especially when you consider its composition – 9 different countries vs just 1 in the form of USA (yes that’s ‘UNITED’ States of America, Phil!)?

Ex-European Open champion Andrew Murray recalled seeing the breakfast arrangements for the US players during stateside Ryder Cups – the Americans set up the breakfast area with tables for one, while it’s all a bit more communal for the Euros (are you listening to this, Nigel?).

Perhaps America is a more individualistic society. And it’s interesting that their ‘big sports’ are of the home-grown variety with relatively little team play outside their borders.

For some strange reason, Europe’s golfers have this “we’re all in it together” attitude and what a wonderful attitude to develop in the workplace. Imagine a culture where people don’t want to let each other (or the company) down. Richard Branson’s recent announcement that he intended to let his employees take as much time off as they wished, whenever they wanted, was pretty extreme but he’s relying on a powerful ‘social contract’ between Virgin and its staff. They can take time off, but he wants them to make a judgment about what can be done without compromising the business. That’s a question of TRUST and it’s in stark contrast to the traditional ‘command-and-control’ culture of old.


Tom Watson lamented his team’s performance in the foursomes matches (that’s where each duo plays alternate shots). You have to pair the right players here; foursomes has the capacity to strain relationships if one player is off colour and the other has to recover the situation.

This emphasises the importance of team chemistry, and a shared sense of responsibility. People need to be batting on the same side and not playing personal politics. In the best teams, when one member struggles the other seeks to compensate and bring their partner back up. This means having the right people on the bus (and in the right seats), but it’s the leadership which sets the tone and inspires that supportive culture.

Respect for the leader

I was really surprised and shocked that Mickleson criticised his captain in public, especially when you consider the exalted reputation Watson has acquired over the years. It’s not the way you deal with conflicts and I was disappointed with Old Lefty.

In Mickleson’s defence I think Watson was wanting in the leadership department. It just goes to show that the best players don’t necessarily make the best leaders. It requires a different skill set to go from a ‘doing/expert’ role to one which inspires OTHERS to perform. This is a lesson businesses have to learn, especially where technicians (eg lawyers, accountants, architects, etc) have taken on senior roles in their organisation.

So another Ryder Cup comes and goes, but the challenges of leadership and team performance continue. I hope we can all draw some useful lessons from the success of Europe and the frustrations of the American side.

Farage to captain the next European team?

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