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Friday, July 22, 2011

Life Lessons In Golf

This summer I have found myself playing more and more golf and getting into the game with a lot of passion and emotion. I am a very average golfer with a handicap of about 16, meaning if I shoot one over par on each hole I achieve my average. Occasionally I will shoot much better than one over par and when that happens I get a renewed sense of excitement about the game. I like it when that happens, but it leaves me with a question: Why is it that some days it feels as though the club is an extension of my arm, and on other days it feels as if it is the first time I have held a club in my hand?

Recently three different people have given me copies of “Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia,” by Dr. David L. Cook. I concluded that was a sign that I needed to read this book. It is a fable about a golf pro who has a disastrous experience in a golf tournament. In his car, he heads to the hill country of Texas and ends up in the small town of Utopia. (There actually is a town of that name in the state.) He meets a retired teaching pro, Johnny, who gives him a lesson a day for seven days using very unorthodox but effective methods. I want to share some of the lessons I have taken from the book that apply not only to golf but, more importantly, to life.

LESSON 1: To be successful in the game of golf and the game of life, we need conviction and passion. Where do we have that deep feeling of commitment and passion in our lives? In my case, I have a deep commitment to helping small business owners discover how they can be successful. It is a great moment for me when I ask a question and the business owner has a very puzzled look and says, “Wow, I need to think about that.”

LESSON 2: Paint a picture of what you want. In golf, as in many sporting endeavors, the coach will tell you to visualize what you want to happen. In my case, from behind the ball before I hit, I want to visualize every shot -- the direction, the trajectory and the distance. I find that many of my successful clients do exactly as the teaching pro was suggesting. They see their business as a success and have a vision for that success. Our teaching pro said, “See it, feel it, trust it.” That is great advice for us in business: See our success and imagine what it will feel like to have that success, and then work your butt off and trust that success will come.

LESSON 3: Get out of the comfort zone. I can see now, after many years, that when I accepted my comfort zone the colors of life began to fade. Johnny asks his student to mark his ball differently, to use a different ball marker for locating the ball on the green and to make other seemingly small changes. In that spirit, I challenge you! What are you doing to get out of your comfort zone? Take a different route to work. Challenge your daily routine. Make a special effort to get out of that comfort zone, enhance your creativity and take some risks.

“A score is not a goal, not a definition of a man’s life.” Johnny’s profound comment can be changed to read, “The success of your business is not the definition of your life.” With a golf swing, the key is to have rhythm, balance and patience. With business, I have found the same to be true. Successful businesses have a rhythm. They just seem to be in a flow and even problems are handled within that flow. The owners have balance and, when they get out of balance, they take positive steps to regain that balance. Successful businesses take patience, and, I might add, hard work. Does your business have a rhythm? Is there balance in your life? Have you been able to exercise the patience required to be successful?

Lately I’ve been playing golf with the same passion, but I’ve also invested some effort in painting a picture of what I want to achieve with each shot. And I’ve been trying to get out of my comfort zone, making the sort of small changes the teaching pro suggested. So far, the results have been encouraging, if not outstanding. I more often feel relaxed and confident on the course. And my scores have improved at least a little. I haven’t found Utopia yet, but I think it could be close -- maybe at the next hole.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Harlan Oelklaus Bio

Harlan Oelklaus grew up in a working class suburb of St. Louis, America's heartland. Among the first generation in his family to attend college, Harlan was discouraged from pursuing post-secondary education by his English teacher, who told him he'd never make it. But at six feet five inches, Harlan's height and calmness under pressure landed him a four-year basketball scholarship to Nichols State University near New Orleans.

Farther away from home than he had ever been and terrified that the English teacher's prediction might come true, Harlan took refuge in the college library. Four years later, he had completed a bachelor's degree in economics. Then he wanted more -- an M.B.A. He enrolled in the University of Missouri, which granted his second degree and put him on a career path in management.

A second discouraging voice came from his father, whose relationship with his own managers had not been good. As a boy, Harlan had listened to his dad's stories of how, time after time, managers had refused to listen to him and other co-workers. Even as a boy, Harlan could see that the result of this deaf-ear approach was a waste of time and human energy, as well as an erosion of trust. These stories had inspired within him a deep desire to change how managers treated people like his dad and thus improve the lot of blue-collar workers like his dad. But his father, unaware of what was in his son's heart, warned, "Don't be a manager. People won't like you."

Once more, Harlan, fueled by a discouraging voice, became determined to prove that he could be an empathetic, responsive, supportive manager who creates workplaces where people thrive. Eventually, his greatest desire became teaching these skills to other managers and business leaders.

In addition to listening to his dad's stories, Harlan had his own share of work experiences, starting at age 13 as a mug washer for an A&W Root Beer stand. He stayed with this summer job until age 19, by which time he had worked his way up to assistant manager.

During college, for extra money Harlan worked on construction jobs, mainly on the cleanup crew. Then he had a brief stint with the Missouri State Highway Department as a weed sprayer.

Upon completing his M.B.A., Harlan went to work for Amsted Industries in Chicago, which put him through a training program in human resources. Progressively, he worked for Amsted subsidiaries -- Diamond Chain Company in Indianapolis and Burgess-Norton in Geneva, Illinois -- gradually taking on more responsibilities that included training, hiring, salary administration, safety, security, accounting, purchasing, and inventory control. He was so successful that Burgess-Norton chose him to open a new plant in Claremore, Oklahoma, where he learned how to manage people in a start-up.

Harlan's success in Claremore attracted the attention of Centrilift, which brought him on as a vice president for human resources. He was part of an executive team that formed a new company with 2,500 employees, in which he was responsible for the entire HR operations.

In the early 1980s, Harlan was one of the trailblazers for teamwork. He was an early adopter and proponent of creating work teams to improve effectiveness, efficiency and results through the synergistic effort of teams. In fact, he liked teamwork so much that he wanted to do it full-time. This was the solution he had been looking for. In 1988 he left the corporate world and contracted his services to an Austin consulting firm, Performance Resources, Inc. Some of his early clients included ABB, Texas Instruments, Dell, AMD, Moog Aircraft, and Raytheon.

His work with Great Plains Communications in Nebraska and Austin Countertops led to a fascination with the dynamics of family-owned businesses, which is one of his specialties today.

In 2001, Harlan became a coach and facilitator for The Alternative Board. In this capacity, he worked with two peer advisory boards of up to 20 small and mid-size companies. He loved helping companies grow to reach the next level of success through strategic planning and company owners achieve their life dreams through creative, forward thinking.

Today Harlan works independently with business owners, attorneys, and entrepreneurs to create profitability and meaning.

An avid golfer, Harlan is married and has two sons, one stepson, one stepdaughter, and two granddaughters. Also he is extremely well managed by a curly-haired white lap dog named Feathers, who walks him for at least a mile every morning and makes sure he gets the love and respect he deserves.