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Keep Your Eye On The Ball

This week, I'm serving as a volunteer marshal at the LPGA tournament going on at my home golf course. My post this morning was the midway point of the tenth fairway, on the left side, where I watched tee shots land and showed some of the world's best golfers where to find their wayward balls.

Across the fairway was John, a fellow marshal whom I met for the first time today. There's out-of-bounds on John's side of the fairway, and heavy woods just beyond. Early in our shift, in between groups of golfers, when there were no balls in flight and spectators were scarce, I noticed John disappearing into the woods. He must have a weak bladder, I thought, assuming he was visiting the woods to relieve himself. I was a little bit disappointed that John would use the woods, rather than walk the hundred yards to the nearest rest area. I formed an instant opinion that John was lazy.

Then, as John returned from one of his visits into the trees, I saw that he was carrying several golf balls. So that's what he's doing, I thought; he's scavenging for golf balls. My opinion of John changed, and not for the better. A cheapskate he was, trying to save a few bucks by scurrying into the woods to recover the lost golf balls of our club's hapless slicers.

As the morning went on, the crowd grew larger. More spectators were walking outside the ropes. At one point, I looked over in time to see John speaking to a young girl; she was only four or five, and she had been walking by John's post with her father. After talking to her for a moment, John handed her a golf ball. She and her dad walked away, she with a big smile on her face.

This went on for the rest of the morning: John giving away every one of his found golf balls to young children, and the delighted recipients walking away with a new treasure. I realized how unfair I had been in my instantly formed opinions of John.

As leaders, it's easy for us to make hasty judgments about our employees. They don't take initiative because they're lazy. Money is their sole motivation. But, as John reminded me this morning, only when we observe behavior over time can we truly understand what inspires people.
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