Gordon On Golf

Golf fundamentals for business

Joseph Paris is a writer, speaker, mentor, and “thought leader” in the discipline of “Operational Excellence.” He is the founder of XONITEK, an international consultancy, and the Operational Excellence Society think-tank. He is also a life-long golfer, having learned the game in upstate New York before moving to Germany.

In his words, Operational Excellence is “a comprehensive end-to-end program for the continuous and deliberate improvement of company performance and the circumstances of those who work there.”

In a blog on his company’s website, Paris entertainingly expounds on some of the lessons to be learned from golf for the purposes of business and Operational Excellence. For the purposes of this article, he agreed to streamline several of those pertinent thoughts into some fundamentals familiar to all golfers.


“In golf, when you have too tight a grip, you become stiff and rigid and you lose flexibility and flow,” says Paris. “You have to loosen your grip during the pursuit of Operational Excellence.  If you have hired good people, you have properly outfitted them, and they are clear on what the strategy is and the tactics to be deployed are, then there is no need to micro-manage them. Let them run. Be there for support, but stay out of their way.”


Rather than physical posture in golf, this applies more to your mental posture or attitude when it comes to business. “You always have to prepare for the unexpected,” Paris says.  Business, and life in general, have their own version of golf’s “rub of the green,” an unpredictable, unexpected influence or occurrence. Business has its own share of bad lies and unfilled divots. “You have to be resigned to the fact that it is extremely unlikely that your plan will play out the way you imagined. You have to be flexible enough to adjust to changing circumstances.”


You may be one of the many golfers who use some sort of alignment device on the range to ensure all the vital parts of your swing—shoulders, hips, feet, clubface—are pointed in the same direction, accurately and deliberately, toward the target. Keep that image in mind when you’re off the golf course and in the office, says Paris. “Maintaining alignment of your business activities to your business strategies is the difference between success, and varying degrees of less success, including complete failure.”


When you prepare to hit the day’s first tee shot, you have a plan, a goal, a strategy. But, obviously, you don’t go directly from that tee shot on the first hole to putting out on the 18th. “There’s a lot of real estate in between that has to be negotiated,” says Paris. “You have to take it one shot at a time, just like in business, reducing that strategy to bite-sized morsels.

“One of the biggest challenges in golf and business is filtering out distractions. You have to train yourself to ignore that which is not important.”

To that end, he advocates adapting the “OODA Loop” for business purposes. Originally utilized by fighter pilots during the Korean War, it refers to the decision cycle of Observe, Orient, Decide and Act. Among other uses, the OODA Loop is intended to provide clearer vision and targeting, thus improving the chances of success. “Commit to the shot,” in golf terms.

Back To Basics

No matter whether it is your golf swing or a business situation, Paris says that “when things start falling apart, go back to the fundamentals. The natural instinct for someone who is in trouble in golf, and most other stressful situations, is to press harder. Although this instinct is natural, it is also very wrong.” The result, he says, is a “death spiral” on the course or in the boardroom.

“When you feel yourself in the death spiral, it’s time to get back to basics—slow your game down, use more conservative clubs and tactics, have your developed mind take over from your primal instincts. Slow down, step back. Observe and assess the situation and then re-engage. In business, if you find that you are digging yourself into a hole, the first thing you need to do is stop digging.”

Paris says writing his blog was an enlightening experience as he uncovered more and more parallels between golf and business. He also discovered that “all of my business experiences haven’t helped my golf game as much as golf has helped my business experiences.”

All the more reason you should be playing more golf, right?