I love golf. I love playing the game and watching it. It hit me earlier this fall, while all eyes in the golfing world focused on this year’s Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Kohler, that there are three key leadership lessons marketers can learn from this beloved sport of mine.


You Don’t Have to Be Knute Rockne to Be a Good Leader

It’s time for marketers to rethink what makes a great leader. Introverts should not be overlooked for leadership opportunities. Introverts can lead winning brands.

We often think of effective leaders as outgoing, affable, smart powerhouses who can come up with Knute Rockne-like motivational pep talks at the drop of a hat. But Steve Stricker, this year’s Ryder Cup team captain is just the opposite. Mild-mannered, Midwest bred, all-around nice guy Stricker, a self-proclaimed introvert, instead led by example. He knew his team and he knew exactly what it needed to win: a team mentality based on communication, a well-thought-out plan, low-key confidence and no surprises.

Stricker is often teased for being vulnerable and wearing his heart on his sleeve. But that’s who he is. As captain, he remained true to his character and even started crying during his opening ceremony speech. The team rallied behind his emotion and brought home the most lopsided victory in Ryder Cup history with a score of 19-9.


Great Leaders Aren’t Always the Best

Those who aspire to lead top brands must be in step with the heartbeat of their colleagues, have a good understanding of what their colleagues need and be willing to nurture them so they in turn can perform at elevated levels. These are the leaders who are good at paying attention, not necessarily the most creative in the room.

Take another look at Stricker. He has not had a bad pro career. He won 12 times on the PGA Tour and at one point ranked as the world’s second-best golfer. However, he is the first U.S. Ryder Cup captain to have never won a major championship. In fact, Stricker was a little surprised and intimidated once he found out he was a strong nominee for captaincy. He’d be following the likes of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, arguably three of the best players ever to play the game of golf.

There has always been a false assumption that the best leaders had to be the best at their chosen profession earlier in their careers. Vince Lombardi, for example, had an unimpressive playing career; however, he knew how to create an environment in which his players could work to their natural best. Marketing leaders should take note.


Age and Inexperience are No Excuses for Opportunity

In marketing and in business, don’t fear or pass up on young enthusiastic leaders, even if they lack experience.

One of the first things Stricker did after being named captain was to change how he assembled the team. He brilliantly instituted six captain picks instead of the normal two, which allowed him to pick players whose game fit the course and who were personable enough to form and develop camaraderie. Of his six picks, four were newcomers to the Ryder Cup. Stricker knew they were young, had the right mental mindset and most importantly “did not have the scar tissue built up from past Ryder Cup failures.” Stricker realized he had to do something different. We all know the definition of insanity, doing things the same way and expecting different results. Stricker shook the dice and went with an unexpected approach.

This year’s Ryder Cup was a spectacle of incredible golf, played on a spectacular course. It also displayed valuable leadership lessons that people in marketing and business can and should learn from.