Why is cultivating a beautiful lawn a more productive metaphor to draw on during executive coaching than sporting analogies? Answer: great business leadership doesn’t lose sight of the long game for the sake of immediate competitive expediencies.

Let me borrow an imaginary dialogue proffered by Professors Ingemar Diermickx and Karel Cool, from their classic study into authentically sustainable competitive advantage. An English lord is being quizzed by an American visitor to his stately home about his magnificent lawns:

The American visitor asks how he, too, could grow such a gorgeous lawn when he returns to the States.
The lord replies that soil quality is doubtless of the utmost importance.
The visitor’s eyes light up; he has property built on very fertile soil.
Proceeding at a genteel pace, the lord goes on to add that such a lawn also requires the finest quality seed and fertilizers.
Eagerly, the American visitor mentally ticks that box – he can easily obtain those.
The lord adds, “Naturally, daily watering and weekly mowing are terribly important.”
The American, already picturing the transformation of his lawn in a couple of months, says “No kidding! That’s it?!”
“Absolutely, old chap. There’s nothing to it. Just keep it up for five hundred years.”

Diermickx and Cool had found that while organisations may double their money and management investments, such measures by no means guaranteed twice as much twice as quickly. Great organisations require leaders who have a long-term vision. When I’m coaching leaders, I gently but insistently question their plans to throw more resources into a strategy, or work harder and chivvy their teams into expending more effort too.

That may work to some extent in the sport professionals’ locker room, but it tends to be woefully insufficient for building lasting and successful teams capable of driving business success. Effective leaders grasp a fundamental truth: like that centuries’ old lawn, the organisational elements behind sustained success need time to blend together.

I’ll expand on executive coaching more next time.

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