By Joshua Denne, Special to California Business Journal.
They say more business is done on the golf course than anywhere else. I would put it another way: You can learn everything you need to know about a potential business partner by playing golf with them. Why? Because how someone does anything is how they do everything.
When I’m choosing what companies to invest in, it’s never really about the company – it’s about the people. I believe that before you do business with anyone, you have to find out who they are. And there’s no place better than a golf course to do that.
I like to get people in a social and semi-competitive environment to see how they operate. On the golf course, I’m observing how they play the game – do they cheat, do they get angry, are they throwing their game to be humble? All these are great tells as to how they will operate in a business setting. It’s a matter of congruency. How someone plays a game reflects how he or she conducts them self in life.
There’s something about a golf course that really brings out one’s character. I like the game of golf because you’re playing against yourself, but others are there for accountability. I get so much information by watching someone play and listening to the conversation around the game.
For example, does the player ask for a mulligan after a bad shot, or try to cover it up? Asking for a consensus among other golfers is the smart move. If they try to hide things in golf, they’ll hide things in business, too.
If you’re golfing with a guy who’s married and he talks a lot about other women, that’s a red flag. How is he going to be loyal to me as an investor if he can’t even be loyal to his own wife? At some point, they’re going to be unfaithful to me in a business relationship.
It’s not about how well you play, it’s how you face the inevitable challenges.
On a golf course, there’s the tee (where you begin) and the hole (where you end), and a long journey in between that may take you through the rough, through sand traps, or even in the water. Of course you want to sail smoothly to the green, but it doesn’t always happen. If I see a player get heated and emotional and blame his club or the ball or the course in general, I know that person has an anger problem, and an accountability problem. They’re not taking responsibility for their own mistakes. If they don’t own it on the golf course, they won’t own it in business. When the investment challenges in business arrive, odds are they’re going to have the same reaction.
Another thing I’m looking for on the course is caring. Sure, I like working with people who are competitive, but I don’t want to win at the expense of someone else. In my experience, most business owners and investors are Type A personalities, but you also have to have the disposition to care about the other alphas in the room and wouldn’t throw them under the bus for the sake of a dollar. A compassionate attitude has to be part of the equation so you know when and how to yield to others in the boardroom.
I also look for people who show too much humility. That can be just as bad as having too much ego. If a player is purposely trying not to play their best game on the links so they don’t outshine the master, they’re cheating themselves. Although it may seem altruistic at first, that player is being false and deceptive. They’re playing the game how someone else wants them to play it, not how they would play it using their talent and potential. In business, I want someone who will stand up to me, tell me when I’m wrong, and challenge my thoughts and perceptions. It’s a guarantee that I’m going to make mistakes along the way. I want people around me to point them out constructively so we can all learn from them.
Usually at the end of 18 holes, I’ve spent enough time with someone to know if I want to be in business with them or not. The game of business starts with the game of golf.
Five Things to Look for in a Business Partner
Honesty and Integrity
These are the cornerstones of any long-term business relationship. Actively listen to your potential business partner to make sure they’re disclosing important information about the pros and cons of any venture. Look for direct eye contact and open body language throughout those critical conversations.
Seek out partners who will own their decisions and take responsibility for good ones and bad ones. If they’re always trying to pass the blame to someone else on the team, they won’t be a strong link in the chain of success.
You need to know that you and your business partners have each other’s backs no matter what happens. It’s all smiles and slaps on the back when things are going great, but you also want someone who’s willing to stick it out through the challenging times, and learn from failure.
It’s one thing to be competitive; it’s another to win at the expense of someone else. A compassionate attitude has to be part of the equation so you know when and how to yield to others in business, especially when you’re sitting in a boardroom filled with Type A personalities.
You want partners who will push you, challenge you, and drive you to success, not ones who nod approvingly and remain passive. A good partner comes with different skill sets and perspectives, and you’re there to learn from each other.