Like so many others, I spent Father’s Day Weekend watching Rory McIlroy make history at the Congressional. While listening to his story and watching his relatively instant transformation from “self-destructing whiz kid” to “self-assured grand slam champion,” I found myself introspecting, and in the process, learning and growing as well. It was only a matter of time before I found myself asking the question – what can the business world learn from Rory McIlroy? Especially as business executives are constantly using examples from the worlds of sports and warfare to inspire and motivate their teams/troops.
I think the Rory story (as has unfolded until now) can teach companies that want to move on from their failures and taste success three very important things.
There is an old saying, what matters in life is not how many times you are knocked down, what matters most is how quickly you get up each time you are knocked down. Resilience is an important ingredient of survival and long-term success. On April 10, Rory blew a 4-shot lead to lose the Masters. Two months and a few days on, he dominated the very next major, as few have in the US Open’s 100+ year history. Too many executives steer their companies with a “rear-view” mirror mindset. This induces unnecessary post-mortem and mourning, preventing them from bouncing back quickly to take advantage of the next round of opportunities.
Several hundred years ago, the good bard advised us – to thine own self be true! But that is something most companies have a short supply of – honesty. Their egos get in the way. All too often, when companies fail – new product failure, a failed reorganization, a stillborn merger – the failed event is used as an occasion to start a blame game. Finger pointing and the search for villains dominate the agenda. Not taking a good hard look at oneself, learning, improving, and moving on. If Rory had indulged in the blame game after the Masters, he would not have made the cut, leave alone win the US Open. As he so refreshingly admitted in his press conference, he was totally honest with himself after the Masters fiasco. Rather than wasting time and energy looking for scapegoats, he spent time and energy looking inwards, trying to understand himself and his game, so that in the future he would know what to do, what not to do, how to play, and how not to play. Without this brazen honesty, athletes, teams, companies, and organizations are doomed to repeating yesterday’s mistakes again and again, resulting in hard-to-reverse behavior patterns.
This is a much-bandied word in the business world these days. Suggesting that a company, or a brand, is a surefire formula for setting off rage bombs. Yet we know that companies and brands are not authentic. Every single day the media presents us with plenty of evidence to confirm that. Why else would companies engage in green-washing (claiming that their products are green, when in fact they are not), be more concerned about financial losses than cleaning up oil spills, and not reveal for days that personal data of their credit card holders has been hacked? Authenticity is not about what companies and brands claim for themselves, it is about how they behave. And watching Rory comport himself, both on and off the course, the respectful and direct way he handled questions, even when asked for the umpteenth time, they way he celebrated, or should it be the way he did not over-celebrate while lapping the field, the grace with which he accepted defeat in Augusta, all point to one thing – authenticity. Authenticity is not something that you can be fitted for like golf clubs and balls, or something that you wear on your golf shirt, like an advertisement, or what spin doctors teach you, its something that you consciously cultivate and nurture, because anything less is unacceptable.
Winning is an infinitely poorer teacher than losing. Thank you Rory for showing us that failure can be a stepping-stone to success. Unfortunately, too many of us leave it the way it is, a slogan, and never convert it to an action anthem.
Cheers! Imbibe a pint of Guinness Stout and reflect on it.