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Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #168: Leadership, Service, and the Ryder Cup

December 30, 2021
Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast #168: Leadership, Service, and the Ryder Cup

Hidden in the historic victory for the US Team at the recent Ryder Cup Golf Championship is a powerful example of servant leadership. Today, Chris and Perry talk about Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker and the power of servant leadership when leading high performance individuals.

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Read the Transcript:

Perry Holley:    Welcome to The John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast, where our goal is to help you increase your reputation as a leader, increase your ability to influence others and increase your ability to fully engage your team to deliver remarkable results. Hi, I’m Perry Holly, a John Maxwell facilitator and coach.

Chris Goede:     And I’m Chris Goede, vice president with The John Maxwell Company. Welcome, and thank you for joining. Just as a reminder, if you’re interested in learning more about some of our virtual training on The 5 Levels of Leadership, 360 Degree Leader, any of our leadership competencies that we’re able to deliver both in the room or virtually, don’t hesitate to visit, there you can fill out a form, leave us a question and answer or comment, we’ll get back in touch with you. Well, today’s topic I’m very excited about. This may be my favorite topic, one, because I don’t think it’s about me but secondly, man I’m an avid fan of this event. Today’s topic is leadership service and The Ryder Cup. All right, Perry, you got me on this. We both love the game of golf. Talk to me, where are we going with this one?

Perry Holley:    Well, this came from a listener question, a comment that came in from the website. And I guess Danny, after listening to episode 154 where we talked about, are you a for or a from kind of leader? Danny commented that he was… as some of us were watching the US Ryder Cup recently that Captain Steve Stricker really embodied most if not all of the characteristics that we discuss about being a for kind of leader. When I saw Danny’s comment, I thought, “Well, that’s interesting.”

I did watch The Ryder Cup and I’m interested, but maybe I don’t know the story. So I went back to look at that and then I should say right now, don’t turn us off if you’re not a golf fan or you don’t care about golf, this is not an episode about golf. But as I looked into how Danny had put it to us that… I agree that Steve Stricker was exhibiting the skills of a for kind of leader that the team knew he was for them and didn’t want something from them. And I think there’s a lot we can learn from that example from our… about being a for kind of a leader, and that’s all I want to talk about. I’ll give you some ideas and we’ll work through it.

Chris Goede:     I love it. Yes. We’re going to tie this to leadership. But I think Danny’s seen our golf game because his comments are relevant to our golf game. See, in the game of golf when you hit a wayward shot, you usually yell four to make sure that anybody-

Perry Holley:    Were you waiting the whole time for that?

Chris Goede:     I’m so excited about this comment. I was like, “Finally, I get to turn this on Perry.” At least I’m saying our golf. I almost said your golf game, but I see what you’re doing there, Danny. Well, before we share our thoughts and we really tie this to leadership principles, let me talk to our listeners just a little bit to set the context about what The Ryder Cup is. See the Ryder Cup it’s a team golf competition between the Europeans, where they take the top four European golfers, then the next five in the world and then they have three wild card picks against the United States, which is the top six US golfers.

And then the captain… and what we’re going to talk about today and Steve Stricker has the next six picks. They call him the… in essence, the captain’s pick. So we got 12 on 12 and it’s a team golf competition. It’s every two years and the venue alternates between courses in the United States and Europe. And man this thing is not played for $1, right? There’s no money involved here. It’s really about bragging rights and pride. And so the leader of this event for both teams, this competition is selected years in advance.

So they got a lot of work to do and they decide who’s going to play when and what does that look like, and how do they establish the culture of all these dominant golfers. So, that’s a little bit of context on The Ryder Cup. And now we’re going to talk about how we tie that to what we saw and experience around leadership.

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Perry Holley:    Well, and the real challenge that the captain faces here, the leader faces like many of us do is to build a team from a lot of independent contractors that are called golfers, and that have substantial egos and enormous confidence in themselves because they are loan agents man, they don’t… it’s not a team sport. Golf is an individual sport and it really it’s an attribute that makes the golfer successful, but it undermines the attempt at team play. And so the captain’s really up against the challenge here to bring these individuals into a team environment.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. What do we say? Leadership’s a team sport made up of a bunch of individual responsibility and contribution, and in essence that’s what it is. So the leaders I mentioned of the US team for this Ryder Cup was Steve Stricker. And it caused some concern early on for him being appointed as this leader, because he had never won a major tournament, was not considered to be a very dynamic charismatic leader. And so that really caused a little bit of concern for those that follow the game and the team closely. And so… but I guess we need to just go ahead and let the cat out of the bag real quick for those that didn’t follow it. Steve actually led the US team to the largest margin of victory ever in the competition of The Ryder Cup. So we’re going to talk about how he did it. We’re going to unpack this a little bit. Go ahead, Perry.

Perry Holley:    I found five things.

Chris Goede:     I love it. We always got five.

Perry Holley:    I’m sure there’s more that he did that I think apply to every leader. And I’m going to… If you don’t mind, I’ll just give you the concept and maybe you can apply it to the business for the leaders today, but I found this interesting and I really appreciate Danny giving us a nudge on this one. But number one, he developed a strategy to win. He chose a strong leadership team. He knew that talent was not going to be enough, every player on both teams had tons of talent. It wasn’t a question of that. He did things behind the scene. He started years in advance petitioning the governing body for more team picks, so he could actually orchestrate who was on the team. He began to communicate with his leadership team, his expectations for their standard of performance. He had a plan. He set a plan, the strategy, and he put it in place early with the right support team.

Chris Goede:     Well, I love it. A couple of those things stand out to me. The first one was that he developed a strong or chose a… chose is probably a better word than developed, strong leadership team. And he brought in outside expertise from his own leadership from layers. He actually brought in some that have been there before. He brought in some that had different thinking. He brought in different things to pull together the culture of this winning team. And that was part of his strategy, was to be able to do that.

And one of the things that I really want to direct here which was, I feel like the positioning that he had himself as a leader was that everybody on that team, and then maybe even us that followed the game close knew that he had a mindset that he was for that team. And so leaders, I just ask you the question as you begin thinking about this like, do they know that you are for them no matter what happens, no matter what’s going on, do your customers know that? And that you’re not necessarily… This wasn’t the Steve Stricker Show by the way. Matter of fact, if you watched any of the coverage, he was very in the background, you very rarely saw them.

Perry Holley:    In the team photographs, he’s-

Chris Goede:     All that stuff. And it wasn’t about Steve, it was about them. It was about for them and pulling all that together.

Perry Holley:    Well, number two, he put that team in a position to win. And he did this by… he really established a culture of collaboration, which is very unusual for golfers. He brought them together early. He scheduled practice rounds where they had to take away from their regular activity to come fly to some place to play together and get to know each other. He respected individual needs while maintaining the type team culture. He knew that there were individual players and big personalities, but he let them be themself. But he really infused that into the team culture. And then he set expectations without being overbearing. It was very clear that he’s a very humble guy and a very quiet guy, but he has very demanding and high expectations. He’s a professional golfer himself, been doing it for many years but he let those expectations be known but without beating anybody with it.

Chris Goede:     Well, when you think about putting your team in a position to win. When we think about winning, we think about level three. We think about production. We think about KPIs. We think about contributing to the overall goal of the organization and that comes from individuals. And I just want to make sure that we make a statement that you look at your culture of your team and what’s going on around and do you have a team environment? Or are they a bunch of individual contributors? Because, we’ve seen Ryder Cup teams in the past that may have been more talented than this one, may have been, right? But the true team environment that he created stood out and how they played together. Another question that just comes to mind which is, are your players positioned to take advantage of their strengths? And we’ve talked about this before, which is making sure they’re on the right seat, on the right bus. But are you putting them in positions? Do you know their strengths? And then are you aligning their strengths with serving the team and the organization to its fullest?

Perry Holley:    Yeah. Fantastic. The next one, if you think that being a for kind of a leader and a service oriented leader is about being mild and meek and humble and quiet. It was that… Number three, he made some difficult decisions. He actually stood up and made really tough decisions. Number one was he didn’t invite the longest attending member of Ryder Cup team, Phil Mickelson. He just said, “I’m not inviting Phil,” but then he turned around and dealt with Phil and then invited him, convinced him to come join as a co-captain. There was still a place for Phil, but he wasn’t going to be as a player, which was hard for Phil because Phil had been there. He did not select some other players who he thought would have a negative team effect. So there were a couple players that were just… they were great on the course.

They riled up energy and emotion, but they were bad in the team room. He chose a winless first year player because he thought he would have a positive team effect. So he’s thinking about the culture and what he wanted to feel like here and, “This person’s going to hurt my culture. This person’s going to help my culture.” And even though the guy had never won a tournament and had never been in a competition like this, he chose him and fast forward, spoiler alert, the guy rocked. And he sat down with… There were two players who were having a public dispute and asked them if they could put that dispute behind them for the unity of the team. And they not only did that, but they went on camera hugging and congratulating and being together. So, this was tough emotional relationship, personality driven stuff that he had to step up to.Chris Goede:     Yeah. And what’s obvious, it jumps off the screen when you’re watching this and your principle we’re talking about today which is, as leaders are we thinking about developing and taking a chance and bringing on the next generation of leaders for your team? There was definitely a difference this year, what we’ll call not old, right? But the common participants that are usually there on the US Ryder Cup team, that weren’t there. They had a little different look and a different feel, they had new talent which then in turn had new energy around the team. And so are you doing that with your team? Are you looking for the next generation, the next individual on your team to begin to give a chance and develop and pour into? And then I love… we were giggling a little bit about the tension between two of the golfers and how he sat them down ahead of time.

And so as a leader, are you addressing any dissension or poor attitudes early so that they don’t affect others? And it actually became the talk of the post Ryder Cup was those two individuals connecting. And so I think that is something that we ought to be looking for. Reminds me of a story away from Ryder Cup of Hendrick Automotive Group, is a great friend and a partner of ours. And Mr. Hendrick has a Hendrick Motor Sports and racing team. And at one point in time, two of his four drivers were not doing so well. And then there’s this relationship with a driver and their crew chief, and there was some tension there. And so one day Mr. Hendrick said, “Hey, just meet me in my office. We’re going to have a conversation.”

And he brought them in and at the table he had cookies and milk waiting for them at the table. Two adults, very successful sports individuals and competitive. And basically he said, “Hey, look, we’re not leaving this room until we figure this out, because some of the things that we’re having problems with and we’re having dissension within the team is really childish. And so we’re going to have cookies and milk until we figure this out.” But are you taking that step to have that conversation as their leader?

Perry Holley:    Right. Number four, Steve Stricter took it personally to remove barriers, any barriers to their success. He did away with, I guess, with tournaments like these. There’s a lot of obligations the players have to do. He took away any unnecessary obligations that previous team were forced to endure. He invited cadies, who were always left outside. He invited the cadies into the team room to be with their players, which was huge team building and family building. He also included the family’s wives, girlfriends, other family members in team events that were there. They had always been excluded. He provided a very player friendly environment. It was for them. He looked around and said, “What would make it good for them?” He removed all big speeches and motivational videos knowing that this team was a group of highly motivated individual, high performance individuals that were already fully motivated. He didn’t need all this rah, rah stuff. So they said he basically set his expectations and then let them go do their thing.

Chris Goede:     Yeah. The questions I have for you coming out of that which is, do you invite those who support your team to participate with them? Celebrate with them. Participate with them. Be a part of what does that look like? If not, I would encourage you to figure out how to do that and what that looks like. And then do you support the family needs of every person on your team? Their needs are different and what does that look like? It could be from a scheduling standpoint. It could be from transportation. It could be whatever it might be, but are you aware and are you sensitive to that as a leader? Because, that it’s a real issue that your team members are dealing with.

Perry Holley:    Finally, you don’t see many leaders that do this but if you’re a for kind of leader, I think it comes natural as he got out of the way. Number five, he just got out of the way, he let them be the star of the show. He trusted them, trusted their skills, trusted their preparation. He removed… love this. He removed all uncertainty. Everyone knew in advance where they were going to be. When they were on. When they were playing. There was no panic moves. They stayed the course, even if they weren’t performing great. And I guess I read that in past years that if somebody didn’t play well, the captain was making the last minute changes, and there was a lot of uncertainty. You didn’t even know where you were going to play until the day that they… the Friday when it started, you was told you’re number three out. But these guys knew all week and they knew who they were playing with so they could prepare themselves. So I love that there was no uncertainty and no panic moves.

Chris Goede:     Man. That is so good. I actually didn’t know some of the comments that you actually shared with us, which makes that leadership feet and service that Steve had for The Ryder Cup and its members even greater. So, man, thanks for doing that Perry. And as I wrap up, here’s what I’m sitting here thinking about, leaders there are situations, whether it’s The Ryder Cup in sports or it’s movies or it’s everyday life where there are leadership principles interwoven in everything that we see and everything that we do. My challenge to you is begin looking at those with leadership lens, with the leadership lens, with leadership perspective. And what is it that you need to be learning from those situations that you can apply in your daily leadership life?

Perry Holley:    Fantastic. Well, thank you, Chris. And thank you all for joining us. If you’d like to leave us a comment or a question, we always love hearing from you. If you want to learn about the five levels or 360 Leader, you can do all that at We do love hearing from you, and we’re very grateful you would spend this with us. That’s all today from the John Maxwell Executive Leadership Podcast.

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