Would You Golf With Obama or Trump?
Would you golf with Obama or Trump? Or both? Or neither?
I bet right now you're thinking passionately about who you would golf with, and trying to make an assumption about who I would golf with. But, as you'll read, there's a powerful leadership lesson to be learned from this question.
Recently, on my return flight from working with a client in California, I overheard two passengers discussing whether Tiger Woods was a Republican, Democrat, or Independent. They mentioned he must be a Republican because, in 2019, Tiger Woods golfed with former President Donald Trump. Being a Tiger Woods’ fan (mainly for his on-course achievements and philanthropic efforts), I was keenly aware that Tiger Woods also played golf with former President Barack Obama during his second term.
I had a minor epiphany. Isn’t it interesting how people jumped to Tiger’s political ideology based on his golf round with Republican Donald Trump? I bet back in 2013, people were jumping to conclusions on his political ideology based on his golf round with Democrat Barack Obama.
“Perception is reality” is the thought that came to my mind during their conversation. In practical terms, it means don’t give people a speech on what you are doing or not doing. People make their own decisions based on what they see right before their eyes. Perception is reality can also mean that I will make a lie and turn it into the truth based on what you are seeing.
During training classes, when discussing how friendly leaders get with team members on and off the job, I often bring up the phrase “perception is reality.” Too often, leaders like to give their team members a speech based on what they are doing or not doing, yet team members will make their own decision based on what they see right before their eyes.
A leader who takes a direct report to lunch or goes golfing or shopping with that team member over the weekend will often say, “We are not going to talk about work.” Yet, what are the non-friends thinking? “I bet they are going to talk about work or even us.” Ahh, it’s the perception that gets you every time.
How about the leader who removes a friend from their primary job to have them help with a project? What do the non-friends say? “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know…they always get the developmental projects.” That same leader could remove a non-friend from their primary job and have them help with a project. What will the non-friends say? “We all get the crap work.” It’s the same job!
I bet some team members would choose to leave a company if they felt a leader was playing favorites. Might some team members think, “I thought I had a chance to get promoted, but now that the leader is getting chummy with other team members, maybe my chances of getting promoted are slim to none?” If a team member feels insecure about their future because their leader spends more time with one team member than them, might they go online looking for another job?
So, how can leaders learn from Tiger Woods? Leaders, balance your time amongst team members; if you go to lunch with one team member, plan to attend lunch with the remaining team members. Leaders, let your team members know there is an expectation you are supposed to be fair and objective. It isn’t easy to uphold that expectation if you get too close to one team member. Let your team members know you have an obligation to balance your time with everyone on the team. Leaders don’t think it matters. It does! Team members make choices every day of what their leader is doing and not doing. Why? Because perception is reality!