It Ain’t What You Do… Fireworks at the Open

“It ain’t what you do.  It’s the way that you do it.  and that’s what get’s results!”

Jimmy Lunceford (and now, Sandy Lyle) 

Jimmy Lunceford first coined the phrase in his big band hit of the same name: It Ain’t What You Do, It’s the Way That You Do It.  And it is true.  What we do has impact, no question, but it is also true that we can amplify or minimize either the harm or help we do to ourselves with the way we do anything.

Witness this week’s serious breach of etiquette, professional comportment and policy by Sandy Lyle at the British Open.  Lyle, a pervious Open champion (in 1985) walked off the course at Royal Birkdale after playing only 10 holes of the opening round.  For any pro to simply withdraw this way is already incendiary, but for an Open champion and potential Ryder Cup captain to do without even finishing the round is unthinkable- and Lyle drew a lot of fire for his choice.

But it was the choice he made for reasons only he truly understands.  So, why has the vociferous and very public brou-ha-ha died down so quickly?  Well, there is amazing and dramatic play in Southampton where the course is located that has kept everyone’s attention on the Open itself.  But more than that, Lyle did not just slink off.  He contacted the R&A Society of Golfers, governing body for the Open to engage in a dialog about his decision.  Neither Lyle nor Peter Dawson (R&A’s Chief Executive) commented on their discussions; however, despite the serious breach, Dawson and the R&A “…consider the matter closed.”

Leaders of all kinds often have to make painful and difficult decisions, and often in the moment.  Those decisions often have an impact on large numbers of people.  And in the end, the accountability for the decision rests with the leader or team who must make the call.  Regardless of positive or negative fallout from the decision, the way that the decision is handled goes a long way toward getting the best outcome.  The CEO who hides during a layoff does no favors to his own reputation or the organization he leads.  Similarly, financial support provided for a key project is insufficient without the visible presence of the leader to back it up.

I recently worked with one COO who, when the decision had been made to send a support process offshore, traveled overnight to be certain he was the one who personally told the people who would be impacted.  His willingness to go there, stay in conversation and deal in a courageous straightforward manner was the difference between an angry and acrimonious transition, and an orderly helpful turnover.

No one at that company loved losing their job just because the boss dealt with them squarely about it.  Sandy Lyle did not want to walk off the links.  But both had tough decisions and their own reaons for the call.  And both executed in a way that served both themselves and their organizations.  It IS what you do… but it is ALSO the way you do it.  �