A TED Talk Comes to Life

I can’t imagine anyone reading this who is even vaguely aware of who I am wouldn’t know how much I love golf. As my primary hobby/interest/passion, I spend a lot of time not only invested in playing the game but thinking about it, not simply from a technical and physical pursuit but also the many ways in which it is both a metaphor for life but all the amazing lessons I’ve learned because of playing this game.

Part of being a golfer means going on golf trips with your buddies. I recall the first trips I took as a teenager, tagging along with my Dad and his buddies. This is where I learned a bunch of added games like “Bingo, Bango, Bongo”, “Wolf”, “Nassau”, “Sixes”, and more. For the past number of years, I organized most of the trips and they’ve usually involved 4 of us and quite often just myself and another buddy. As the organizer, I typically choose the courses, tee times and even the evening activities which were usually limited simply because we almost always played 36 holes a day, playing from sunrise till sunset.

This year, I was invited to join a trip that involved 8 of us of which 4 members I’d either never met or only knew peripherally. Choosing to spend 4 days from sunup to sundown with people you don’t know well, is a bit risky. It turned out to be a wonderful trip. I got to visit and make connections with these men at various levels.  None of us are particularly good golfers but playing in the mountains and being in nature was soul-filling. We laughed a lot and enjoyed some friendly competition. Golf doesn’t develop character, it reveals it. You can learn a great deal from someone after a round of golf. Add to that a couple of meals and maybe a card game, you can probably assess someone very accurately.

One of our members was a doctor from a rural town outside of Moose Jaw. I’d never met him before and after one round of golf, I could tell he was a kind, caring and thoughtful man. The more time we spent together, this assessment was affirmed. One evening some of us wanted to get some Texas hold ‘em lessons. My new doctor friend had never played but was focused on the concept of bluffing. While he was told it’s only one strategy, he became fixated on it and after a few dummy hands we played and of course he was out quickly after a few too many of his bluffs were called. We couldn’t help but laugh and tease him and he took it all in stride. It didn’t bother him at all.

One evening we attended a concert featuring a jazz band from New Orleans. It was a tight space not designed for concerts, but everyone was enjoying the music. We came late and were at the very back of the room.  Because he loves music and dancing, my new doctor friend, began dancing. I don’t dance. I didn’t learn to dance, and it’s just never been part of my life. In fact, if I’m being honest, I’d rather make fun of people dancing. Probably because of my own deficiencies, dancing always looks awkward to me. But there’s a vulnerability there that is admirable.

As he started dancing, a few older women joined him. Three of them at the very back of the room, in their own world, having a great time. The other members of my group were smiling and giggling as our friend stood out in the crowd moving his body to the music and not caring a wit what anyone else thought of him, let alone his golf buddies. A number of us took out our cameras and filmed him to share in our group chat. As the band played their last song, our doctor friend started dancing and moved right up to the band along with his 2 female followers. As I filmed him, I witnessed a real-life enactment of this very famous TED talk.

The Derek Sivers “How to Start a Movement“ talk provides a wonderful example of what leadership can look like.

I realize Siver’s focus is not on the lone nut but the first follower which is certainly an underrated aspect of movements but with my friend, our own “lone nut”, it’s worth exploring what leadership looks like. As I’ve learned over the years, the characteristics of good leaders aren’t particularly helpful in figuring out leadership. The characteristics you might list are preferences of leaders you like but the only true measurement of leadership is followers.

I talked to him after and asked him about his motivation. He said, “I just love music and love to dance.” He said he also wanted others to feel free to dance too and felt maybe if I do it, others might join. Clearly, there were many just itching to dance but maybe because of people like me, felt awkward and didn’t want to be a spectacle but just wanted to enjoy themselves and do what their body is begging them to do. My friend gave people permission to have fun. What I witnessed was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen. After the concert ended, he had stranger after stranger thank him and our group had to wait outside until he had finished acknowledging his new fans. I think he had more people talking to him than the band, and the band was very good. As we waited, we all were smiling and proud of what our golf buddy had done. It was clear, our friend was a leader. There are so many great memories from this trip but watching my new friend start a movement will likely be the longest lasting one.