I like golf. I don’t get to play it much these days, and it’s probably as much fun for others to watch me play golf as it is for me to actually play the damned game. But I still like golf.

Please understand… I like to play golf. I do not like to practice golf. At all. Ever. I don’t even like to hit a few balls on the range to loosen up before a round.

About now, you’re asking yourself what this couple possibly have to do with leadership. I’m getting there, don’t get your panties in a bunch.

Mulligans, that’s what. On the first tee, it’s pretty customary to get at least one mulligan – a do-over or redo – for a no-warmup-induced crappy first drive. In fact, I’ve been known to take more than one mulligan on that first tee, depending on my mood.

And in tournaments (of the local fundraiser sorts, not PGA), you can even buy more mulligans to use any time during your round. If you’ve seen me play, you know that’s a solid investment.

Think about that… getting a do-over when you make some errant, boneheaded shot. How cool is that?!?

Now, let’s connect that to leadership.

Sometimes, we do something without thinking; either we didn’t think at all, or we didn’t think it through. Either way, our thought process caused an unforced error. When these unforced errors go uncorrected or unowned for some period of time, resentment starts to build up in some of the affected troops. It can cause poor performance, reduced productivity and damaged engagement.

In short, it’s bad.

When you find yourself in that situation, where you’ve made a series of decisions that, let’s say, were at a minimum not received all that well, particularly if it involves marginalizing multiple people, realize that the diminished success of your team is yours to own.

And yours to fix.

But how?

Here’s a suggestion: Take a mulligan.

I call this a Leadership Reset, and if you can holster your ego long enough, it works. It goes something like this:

  1. Call team together, apologize and admit you’ve been an idiot.
  2. Describe your better, more inclusive plan, ask permission to try again.
  3. Take your mulligan, start over, and don’t be an idiot this time.

Note: Seldom will the same team ever give you more than one mulligan, so use wisely.

Now, I described this a bit flippantly, but I’m as serious as I can be. A Leadership Reset is almost always accepted, increases your credibility and creates an undeserved do-over with a capable team.

It’s a mulligan, without the beer, cigars and “Whack, dammit!” that occurs on the golf course.

I had a coaching client who was given a role where significant change was sorely needed. A solid performer and a good manager, she came in, set a course, and began executing the very changes she had been asked to drive forward.

And she left her team in the dust (“outran her pass protection,” if I were mixing metaphors). Team productivity – and performance – plummeted, and dissatisfaction was obvious.

She did a Leadership Reset.

Sat down with the team, described and apologized for what she had done, asked for the opportunity to “try again,” and did so. Much more successful, and the renewed engagement spilled into other areas of success. Wins all around.

You won’t find Leadership Reset in many glossy hardbacks, just like you won’t find a mention of mulligan in the rules of golf.

But both make their respective games infinitely more enjoyable.

Can you “adjust” your performance, and that of your team, by simply “acting right” going forward, without all the admissions and apologies hoopla? Yes, of course. But it will take a longer time. A LOT longer. You aren’t taking a mulligan, so new behavior gets added to old behavior, just like adding strokes in golf.

During the 1927 Shawnee Open, PGA professional Tommy Armour did the tin-cup routine, knocking 10 consecutive drives out of bounds. Since he didn’t get a mulligan, they all added up – his 23 on the hole still stands as the highest-known score on a single hole in PGA Tour history.

Don’t be like Tommy Armour. Take a mulligan and move forward.

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