How Nancy Clark uses the lessons of golf to teach leaders self-awareness

Nancy Clark, founder and president, Leadership Dynamics Inc.

As founder and president of the 250-employee consulting firm, Leadership Dynamics Inc., Nancy Clark is regularly working shoulder to shoulder with business executives to help them overcome their leadership challenges. From this perspective, she frequently sees leaders struggle to adapt to new expectations as they are promoted up through management.

“It is not simple, and for many, it is not natural,” says Clark, who is also the author of “18 Holes for Leadership: How a Round of Golf Can Make You a Better Leader.” “Some have to develop the capabilities. Some need to depend on others to fill in the gaps, and some may have strengths that directly conflict with achieving a leadership position.”

Smart Business spoke with Clark about her book and why self-awareness can help you become a better leader within your organization.

What example in the book do you think best illustrates how leaders can become more successful?

The importance of self-awareness is a thread throughout the book and is considered one of the most critical foundational elements.

I formally introduce it when Sam, the executive coach, and Paul are waiting to tee off on the fourth hole. Sam helps Paul to see how he approaches golf, which is completely different than Sam. Neither is right or wrong, but the result can be completely different. Paul is very thorough, analytical, task-focused. He is not ‘people-focused’ and is surprised that he may be perceived by others as unfriendly or distant. Given that Paul is experiencing a high number of defections from his team, he may want to adjust his style to achieve different results.

Why is self-awareness a trait that business leaders need as they move up in a company?

What really seems to implode for some leaders when they make it to the top is their guiding values get sideways, whether they just get so pressured by really earning or they drink the Kool-Aid believing that they are all powerful and above all of this. But they end up sort of throwing their values under the bus.

Sometimes they think they are so unbelievably great that they could run any business any time anywhere, and they begin going a little bit outside of their competency areas.

A lot of it is there really isn’t that self-awareness, that they don’t really understand the impact that their behaviors are having on other people and how that really is creating havoc. Then they go through one of our workshops or learning or coaching, and all of a sudden you see these lights go on. It’s literally waking them up. The real strong first step is self-awareness, because they have to understand and recognize what their strengths are and how best to utilize and how to adjust.

How can a leader become more self-aware?

Some CEOs are very reflective and more naturally aware of their strengths and work styles. For others, it is not as straight forward.

Often when I ask a CEO or leader, ‘What are your strengths?’ I hear more of a chronology of work experiences and education. That is not what is being asked.

The first step is find out that there are great tools out there that can help you be much more effective, also be much more productive and drive performance so much better as well as make people happier and more productive in their positions.

There is a great quote from Dr. Edwards Deming: ‘Experience alone teaches us nothing.’ If CEOs do not have a theory or framework to understand themselves and others, they are left to recurring experiences with no possibility of predictable improvement.

How to reach: Leadership Dynamics Inc., (925) 831-9100 or