Leveraging Personality Research to Find Club Leaders

As the club industry continues to evolve following the COVID-19 pandemic, many clubs are facing the challenge of finding the next great Chief Operating Officer/General Manager (COO/GM).  The increase in retirements, a constrained talent pipeline, and the change in expectations of work-life integration contribute to an increasingly challenging talent acquisition environment.

Many clubs will turn to search firms to help find the right leader for their club. As part of the process, most firms conduct an introductory inquiry into the functional aspects of the position by identifying the requirements and the unique knowledge, skills, and abilities the club needs. While this is an important introduction to the position’s basics, it doesn’t necessarily identify the often hidden and interrelated needs unique to the club and the membership. To successfully conduct an executive search, a deeper understanding of the position is often necessary.

Using a research-based approach creates deeper, data-informed insights to target suitable candidates and enhance the success of the search.  In developing an understanding of the position and the club itself – its traditions, culture, and future aspirations – a more targeted approach can be used to locate the right candidate. This is accomplished by engaging multiple stakeholder groups at a club to identify the right candidate pool, attracting potential hires and correctly assessing fit, and placing a candidate with the best opportunity to help move the club forward.

Unlike traditional, industry connections-first processes focused on managerial skillsets, research can further clarify the unique considerations of each club to find suitable candidates. Examining the personality required of future leaders creates a depth of insight to help build the managerial environment, meet the members’ expectations, and position the club for long-term success.

Personality tests, which have been widely used for decades, are based on the four temperaments identified by Hippocrates:

  • supportive personality traits (e.g., supportive, thoughtful, considerate).
  • inspiring personality traits (e.g., persuasive, inspiring, personable).
  • driver personality traits (e.g., results-oriented, independent, ambitious).
  • analytical personality traits (e.g., systematic, structured, logical)

Unlike personality tests applied to potential candidates, GGA emphasizes the importance of the club’s expectations and environment to identify suitable candidates. This process includes pinpointing the specific operational skills and personality traits needed to be successful in the COO/GM position.  After meeting with the governing board and search committee to understand the specifics and unique considerations of the position, a multi-step research process is undertaken. This includes engaging staff and member stakeholder groups to help identify the right criteria for the position. We continue to collaborate with the club during the extensive interview and placement process, continuing through and past the placement as part of the extensive executive search process.

Our research in COO/GM executive searches has found that the most preferred personality traits relate directly to the need for leaders to demonstrate key components of empathy. Being personable is one of the most mentioned personality traits, followed by needing a professional demeanor and showing effective leadership characteristics.  Being friendly is also important, along with the need to have a natural ability to communicate with members and employees alike. Most importantly, these attributes are distributed across all four groups of the personality traits mentioned above (supportive, inspiring, driver, and analytical), indicating the need for balanced leaders that demonstrate an effective mix of personality traits.

While more than 35 personality traits have been identified as important, there is a high degree of overlap and alignment between the staff and membership (e.g., each group sees professionalism as incredibly important). However, differences also emerge between these two groups. Being friendly was the members’ most important inspiring personality trait while compassion was most important for employees. These differences demonstrate how each group’s preferences are driven by their interaction with the COO/GM (e.g., employees want a leader to show compassion, whereas members want a friendly leader). Personality traits also differ based on the club’s current needs, culture, and other dynamics identified during the search process.

While basic research can identify the unique needs of each club and even potential differences between stakeholder groups, a more detailed process paints a much deeper picture of what is required. Take professionalism, for example.  Everyone knows professionalism when they see it, but how does professionalism relate to other personality traits? Using our advanced analysis techniques, results indicate that professionalism is not simply a construct that exists on its own. When searching for a club leader, professionalism must be demonstrated across multiple other traits, such as how candidates listen, communicate, and how they establish approachability. Crucially, the importance varies across other personality traits, indicating clubs are looking for professionalism as related to some areas more than others.

Like leadership abilities and functional skills, personality is essential for a club to find its next successful COO/GM. Understanding the importance of and interaction between supportive, inspiring, driver, and analytical personality traits is an area that clubs, search committees, and potential candidates would be wise to focus on. While detailed research can help clubs understand unique needs, clubs and candidates should consider that when working with a search firm that emphasizes personality traits as part of their process, they will both be put in a better position to succeed.

Using a research process that goes beyond leadership skills and industry knowledge needed for a position allows search firms to:

  • Truly understand the needs of a club to help identify candidates with the best opportunity for success based upon the culture, situation, and specific stakeholder needs.
  • Understand what specific personality traits are essential for each club and how these behavioral considerations differ.
  • Go beyond the closely cultivated network of contacts looking to transition to seek out passive candidates who are not looking to change but could be interested in a position that aligns with who they are.

If you would like to learn more about our Executive Search services can help your club find its next club leader, please get in touch.

Michael Gregory, Managing Director & Partner
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Dee Anna Clarke, Director
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Dr. Eric Brey, Ph.D.
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GGA Partners and USGA to Collaborate on Golf Course Superintendent Executive Search and Placement Services

New offering combines organizations’ expertise to improve golf facilities’ ability to deliver better playing conditions and enhanced golfer experience

BLUFFTON, S.C., and LIBERTY CORNER, N.J. (April 14, 2021) – The United States Golf Association (USGA) will join with GGA Partners (GGA), an international consulting firm, to launch a new service to place top-notch golf course superintendent candidates at facilities across North America.

As part of its suite of advisory services, GGA has long provided executive search services for facility clients. The collaboration will expand the company’s offerings, with the USGA Green Section’s agronomic and maintenance expertise serving as key factors in targeting the unique needs of each golf course and identifying superintendents with matching skills who can help facilities elevate playing conditions, improve course presentation and foster sustainable practices.

“For any golf facility, the ability to hire the right talent is crucial for long-term success, and we believe in creating and maintaining partnerships with facilities,” said Patrick DeLozier, GGA’s managing director of executive search. “The stakes are higher than ever for facilities looking to hire superintendents, and they are looking for candidates with a wide variety of skills.”

Added Craig Johnston, a GGA partner: “The ability to complement our services in strategy, facility governance, finance and operations with the USGA’s agronomic strength will ensure that we can continue to support our clients with the gold standard in best practices, education, innovative products and research.”

The collaboration will allow the USGA to expand its reach and enhance its ability to inform best management practices for golf course maintenance, including resource prioritization. As part of its mission to champion and advance the game, the USGA is helping to ensure a sustainable game in which course managers are empowered to create a positive experience for their golfers.

“GGA’s values and business areas are strategically aligned with our mission,” said Matt Pringle, managing director of the USGA Green Section. “With this new joint service, we can find the best match between the needs of the golf course and the skill set of their next superintendent, while providing ongoing support to deliver outstanding playing conditions and improved golfer satisfaction.”

The joint service will utilize the USGA’s nationwide network of agronomists, whose extensive knowledge of the facilities and superintendents in their regions will be pivotal to the program’s success. They will work closely with DeLozier, who heads up the firm’s executive search practice.

To learn more, contact Patrick DeLozier at patrick.delozier@ggapartners.com or Elliott Dowling at edowling@usga.org.


About the USGA

The USGA is a nonprofit organization that celebrates, serves and advances the game of golf. Founded in 1894, we conduct many of golf’s premier professional and amateur championships, including the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open. With The R&A, we govern the sport via global set of playing, equipment, handicapping and amateur status rules. The USGA campus in Liberty Corner, New Jersey, is home to the Associations, Research and Test center, where science and innovation are fueling a healthy and sustainable game for the future. The campus is also home to the USGA Golf Museum, where we honor the game by curating the world’s most comprehensive archive of golf artifacts. To learn more, visit usga.org.


About GGA Partners

GGA Partners™ is an international consulting firm and trusted advisor to many of the world’s most successful golf courses, private clubs, resorts, and residential communities. We are dedicated to helping owners, asset managers, club and community leaders, investors and real estate developers tackle challenges, achieve objectives, and maximize asset performance.

Established in 1992 as the KPMG Golf Industry Practice, our global team of experienced professionals leverage in-depth business intelligence and proprietary global data to deliver impactful strategic solutions and lasting success. GGA Partners has offices in Toronto, Ontario, Phoenix, Arizona, Bluffton, South Carolina, and Dublin, Ireland. For more information, please visit ggapartners.com.

What Are You Doing to Develop Future Leaders?

One of the most important responsibilities for managers is developing the next generation of leaders and preparing them for the professional challenges they will face. The most obvious way to develop leadership qualities is simply to pay your knowledge forward by identifying the most important lessons you’ve learned — often the hard way — and passing them on to your team.

That responsibility starts with acknowledging that agronomic knowledge is simply table stakes. Knowing how to grow turf and keep it healthy is expected of anyone in the superintendent role, and most up-and-coming turf managers come to the job well prepared. GCSAA educational programs and the generous teaching of consulting specialists and suppliers go a long way in helping to lay this foundation. Certainly, the college of hard knocks provides its lessons as well.

But what lessons will you teach your assistants and crew members? And how can you help prepare them for their next opportunity to move into more responsible positions? In addition to making yourself available as a mentor, you can also broaden your own knowledge by paying attention to what your most respected peers consider their priorities. Here are suggestions from two of the best in the business.

Bill Cygan is the exceptional young superintendent at Silver Spring Country Club in Ridgefield, Connecticut. After graduating from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Bill spent six years as an assistant at Innis Arden Golf Club in Greenwich and another six years caring for the West Course at Winged Foot.

Build strong relationships and communicate often.

“This is not easy and doesn’t happen overnight, but the stronger your relationships are at the club, the smoother the ride will be, especially during times of adversity,” Bill says. “Relationship building should include department managers — especially the golf pro, controller and general manager — as well as certain key members of the club, including the green chairman and treasurer, who can be important allies.”

Trust your teammates.

In addition to the administrative leaders with whom a successful superintendent works, Bill adds, “Be sure to build a strong team responsible for the daily golf course maintenance operations.” The strength of the team is your strength.

Carlos Arraya, the assistant general manager at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, began his career as a golf course superintendent and over two decades has grown into a key leadership position at one of America’s finest clubs, having hosted the 100th PGA Championship in 2019. Carlos teaches several key points of focus:

Lead the way.

“Understand your leadership style and voice,” he says, adding that managers who favorably influence the next generation of leaders practice mindfulness, leaving their ego at the shop door, putting the interests and needs of their crew ahead of their own and recognizing a job well done. Further, he recommends continue evolving as a leader to best handle the needs of a changing workforce.

Be present.

Some managers are overly focused on the next job, but Carlos counsels: “Focus on being great in your current role.” One can never know too much; by the same token, one can never know everything, so don’t pretend that you do.

Hone your own character.

Superintendents and managers of all descriptions work in the proverbial glass house. The key to being effective at each level is understanding that one is setting an example for others up and down the organizational chart. “Know the difference between an excuse and a reason,” he says. “And don’t fall into the trap of professional jealousy.”

Rely on science.

“(Superintendents) are trained in the scientific method. But sometimes we overreact and are too quick to make a decision,” he says. Club and course managers can pressure superintendents, especially when times are tough, to have immediate answers. “Be deliberate, rely on the science.”

Developing young people into experienced and highly effective crew members, ones who will one day lead their own operations, is one of the most important jobs of any superintendent. And only when you lose some of your best people, when they move on to the top job at another club or course, you will know that you’ve been successful.

This article was authored by Henry DeLozier for Golf Course Industry magazine

Don’t Let Them Ignore You

GGA Partner Henry DeLozier highlights 5 key attributes to help golf course leaders achieve recognition for their talents and efforts.

We all want to be recognized for our talents and efforts. In fact, in a world where we take more than 93 million selfies a day, being ignored is certainly one of life’s biggest disappointments. One long-held suggestion to avoid being overlooked or taken for granted is this one: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

It’s advice offered by comedian Steve Martin, author Cal Newport (in a book with the same title) and printed on T-shirts and wall posters that adorn corporate breakrooms across our country. No matter our objective – recognition that leads to a promotion or simply the satisfaction that comes from a boss’s or colleague’s “good job” – excellence that demands attention seems a logical and valuable strategy.

Here are five attributes that can make you so good that you cannot be ignored:

1. Great attitude is a key factor in your success and ability to be noticed, whether you’re a golf course superintendent, golf professional or club manager.

Savvy employers hire for attitude above other attributes. Stated in the negative, no one needs a grumpy or uncooperative manager leading today’s work force. There is enough friction in getting operational teams to perform at the high end of their capabilities without someone with a negative attitude pulling us down.

According to author Emily Smykal, whose findings were part of a CareerBuilder study by Harris Poll, nearly three in four employees (72 percent) spoke to the power of a positive attitude. “Positivity leads to a more productive workday and creates a better environment for fellow employees,” she writes. “Great employees consistently stand out for their upbeat attitudes and earn positive reputations for themselves.”

Building and keeping an attitude that leads others toward common goals requires a comprehensive understanding of the job’s requirements and a willingness to teach others to work harder, better and smarter. What’s more, great attitudes are contagious.

2. Eager learning keeps everyone involved sharp.

Constant learners tend to be open, creative and receptive to new or different ideas – even if they’re someone else’s. Heather Huhman wrote on Glassdoor that an eagerness to learn shows openness to new ideas, willingness to think beyond today’s facts and invaluable curiosity.

Robert Half, a specialist in recruitment and employment services, recommends that every resume show an eagerness to learn. This trait adds value for the employer and expands the performance potential of the employee. When you’re learning and growing, you are becoming a more valuable employee and one whose contributions are easily recognized.

3. Trustworthy teammates, especially in troubled times, are valued for their consistency, stability and integrity.

Difficult and exigent circumstances reveal those who can stand tall and steady in crisis. One’s day-to-day commitment to being a trusted and respected teammate is manifested in a thousand acts. Ensuring that your actions match your words is an important trust-builder, as are genuine eye contact, thoughtful interactions, an openness to criticism, and the willingness to express oneself openly and with trust.

The world champion sprinter Carmelita Jeter breathlessly testified to the power of trusting teammates at the 2012 London Olympics when – after running the anchor leg on the women’s 4×100-meter relay team, she said: “I knew they trusted me like I trusted them. And I would not let them down.” Jeter and her trusting teammates bested a world record in the event that had stood for 27 years.

4. Mental toughness is critical when we encounter adversity, in life and on the job.

Are you resilient and persistent enough to overcome challenging circumstances? According to Inc. magazine, qualities that make you mentally tougher are patience, perspective, focus (on priorities) and the willingness to confront adversity. The mentally tough understand that criticism or adversity is often not of a personal nature and see it as an opportunity to keep pushing toward their goal.

5. Careful planning – Planning is critical to sustained success. Managers who take a focused approach to plans and planning outperform their club’s budget. Advance planning reduces risk as managers identify potential threats and opportunities. Established, well-stated goals and objectives simplify and clarify your intentions.

This article was authored by GGA Partner Henry DeLozier for Golf Course Industry Magazine

3 Attributes of an Outstanding Club Manager

What does it take to be an outstanding club manager? And for clubs seeking to fill this role, what attributes should they be looking for?

GGA’s new Executive Search Director, Patrick DeLozier, explains what it takes to be among the best private club managers.

It takes a particular type of individual to be a club manager.

Seldom is it a job with set hours and set responsibilities; it is more often a vocation which requires an unprecedented level of commitment and drive.

Rewarding? Yes. Challenging? Most certainly.

Throughout my time both at the sharp end of club management, as well as participating in national associations and state boards, one thing was abundantly clear – the role of the club manager is inextricably linked with the success or failure of a club.

It is, therefore, an appointment clubs cannot afford to get wrong.

But what makes an outstanding club manager?

1) Strong work ethic

High performing club managers are leaders with a relentlessly strong work ethic.

They are dedicated, committed and visible to the whole club – including both their membership and their team.

Beyond the general day-to-day requirements, the best club managers have a sense of when and where to be at all times. Not simply to be seen, but to demonstrate leadership and accessibility, consciously engaging with everyone they encounter in a meaningful and constructive way.

For team members this means being willing to mentor, offer guidance and invest time in their well-being and progression, whatever the role. For members, it is going the extra mile, ensuring exceptional service levels and a commitment to continuous high levels of satisfaction.

The club manager should be the face and voice of the club, not tucked away in a back office.

2) Forward-thinking

Effective managers do not stand still. They are always growing, always looking forward.

For them, success is just fuel to improve, and failure is an opportunity to learn and avoid repeat mistakes.

They are relentless when it comes to innovation: they recognize trends, the importance of future generations, and consider how to best position their club to take the opportunity they present.

As golf and particularly private clubs move ever more towards service and experience, the most forward-thinking club managers are tuned into three important things:

  • Continuous investment in the property (and the areas in which to invest)
  • Attracting, training and motivating the right people for their team
  • Perfecting operational execution to create the ultimate experience for members and guests

3) Welcomes accountability

A high performing club manager never waivers when it comes to being accountable and holding oneself to exceptional standards of integrity and honesty.

While moral and ethical accountability is of paramount importance, so too is business accountability.

Successful managers engage in business intelligence and the ability to root decisions in evidence and fact. They embrace performance targets, and motivate their team to meet them.

More broadly, outstanding club managers welcome the existence of a strategic plan to determine the direction of travel, underpin all that they do, and provide a vision for the future they can unite the entire club behind.

To perform such a complex and varied role, a club manager will need an armory of attributes – not just three. But these traits should serve as a good foundation for what it takes to be an outstanding private club manager and help to safeguard your club from choosing the wrong candidate.

Recovering from the missteps of inadequate leadership can be an enormous burden, so if your club needs guidance in the recruitment of a new club manager or leader, please connect with me for an informal discussion.

Connect with Patrick DeLozier

The Revenue Menu

At a typical golf club, who should be involved in building revenue for the club?

Building revenue is a part of everyone’s job at a club.

If you are a leader, it’s important that everyone under you shares your vision to increase sales.  That necessitates good communication, as with any efficient team, but if all areas of the club are on the same page when thinking about how best to benefit the bottom line, the results will speak for themselves.

They say no man is an island, and no part of your club operation is either.  If you want to build revenue, it needs to happen at all levels of your business.

How can a club encourage all levels of the operation to be thinking about revenue growth?

Attitude always reflects leadership.  If the leader’s attitude is demonstrated in a commitment to increase revenue, most subordinates will embrace the importance of the task.

Therefore, it is incumbent on team leaders to teach staff, not just what to sell – which goods and services yield the most profit margin for the Club – but also how to sell it.

Often staff members are enthusiastic about developing new skills and all they need is guidance.  The truth is, few among us are natural-born salesmen, but selling is a skill that can be learned.  Think about investing in a professional selling skills program to train the club’s staff, and the selling strength of the club will expand immensely.

How should the operations team decide on which revenue sources to focus their energies?

A great way to get the ball rolling is to create and use a ‘Revenue Menu’.  Think about all of your available revenue sources, list them out, and leave no stone unturned.

You will want your team to focus on what yields the most to the club and sell high-yield items as much as is reasonable; however, it is also important that each staff member knows all of the products and services that they can offer a customer.  This way, when the high-yield items are not appropriate they can move down that list.  It all adds up: if you don’t get the little money, you won’t get the big money.

Membership dues and guest fees are high-yield segments, as are fees for motor carts and range balls, and these are usually the best place to focus first.

However, one notable exception to the notion of focusing on high-yield products is instruction.  When people commit to becoming better golfers, they use the club more often, feel more loyalty towards it, and make it a priority in their thinking.  Helping others to enjoy golf more through instruction is a sound business approach.

What are some of the key tactics that should come from any “Revenue Menu”?

  • Membership dues and fees will be the primary source of revenue for most clubs, and should always be a priority.
  • Items that have little cost of sales attached to them such as motor carts and range balls.
  • Increase rounds played through non-dues golf rounds (guest play) and events.  This should be a priority for every pro.
  • Win the kids and you win the moms; win the moms and you win the game.  Treat children well – it’s good business.
  • Reward customer loyalty, but reward it only when you get what you want (e.g. buy 10 buckets of balls, get one free, etc.).
  • Cause customers to earn discounts.  When you do a points program at your club, be sure it doesn’t become a problem with customers looking for more.
  • Make instruction a priority.  Revenue comes in different ways, not only directly.

The key is that your Revenue Menu needs to be a living document, not just a one-time event.  It’s important to follow and map the items on your menu to see how they are performing.  This allows you to adjust your tactics as you move forward and discover which items are more fruitful investments at your club.

This article featured insights from GGA Principal and Partner Henry DeLozier

Polish Your Skills

Of all the career counseling advice given over the years, Abraham Lincoln probably nailed it when he said: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

With one more grass-growing season under your belt, maybe you’re reflecting on your career and wondering where it’s going. Maybe you’re worried it’s not going in the direction you hoped or that it seems stuck. Maybe it’s time to take charge of your career and start creating your future. Here are nine capabilities that must be developed and improved upon to advance your career:

Leadership/Command Skills

Are you the person to whom others look in times of difficulty or crisis? John Cunningham, who began his career as a golf course superintendent and is now the general manager at Aronimink Golf Club, views career paths as a four-lane highway rather than the one-lane road many see. “Do not pigeonhole yourself as just an expert in one area. Once I started learning about the entire club business, I realized that the leadership and management skills that I had been working on in one area of the club business were transferable to many other career opportunities.”

Professional Selling Skills

Those who understand the science of professional salesmanship have a distinct advantage when trying to move someone to their point of view. For them, persuasion is a process of describing both the features and benefits of the course of action they advocate.

Business Acumen

Do you understand how the business you manage works? Are you an accomplished financial manager? Countless programs are available through CMAA, GCSAA and the PGA of America to help aspiring managers understand the business necessities of their clubs and employers.

Learning on the Fly

Many lessons in club management are learned on the fly without time for rehearsal or in-depth preparation. This requires that a manager be open to change and comfortable when dealing with unexpected problems. Mark Bado, the GM at Myers Park Country Club in Charlotte, says, “Aspiring managers should be patient and hungry to learn and to stretch themselves. We all experience setbacks and get knocked down. Surround yourself with people who have been there also and will you get back up on your feet.”

Standing Alone

The people who make major career moves are often those willing to explore new concepts and find new solutions to complex problems, ones such as labor shortages and escalating personnel costs. Often it is the champion for new concepts who reverses operational losses and plots a new course for a club’s growth.

Organizational Agility

“Take a chance and ask for help,” Cunningham advises. “The relationships that I have developed in the club business have afforded me so much perspective and insight. We all have blind spots and being collaborative and reaching out to others regarding your career will be invaluable.” Develop your own list of go-to experts in various aspects of the business and remember to pay their kindness forward.

Dealing with Ambiguity

Those who advance their careers function effectively in a state of continuous learning. Paul Levy, the current president of the PGA of America, has learned great lessons “in the heat of battle,” as he calls it. “Work on improving your communication skills (because) it’s often not what you say but how you say it that matters.”

Performance Management

“Today we live in a world where most people respond best to positive direction and motivation,” Levy says. ”When you must give feedback on performance or behavior that needs adjusting, it must be done positively and with a plan you both agree on for improvement that benefits both parties.” Every leader is held to account for his or her results; knowing how to track and measure ongoing performance yields improved results.

Hanging Tough

Adversity finds each of us. As the Navy SEAL saying goes, “The only easy day was yesterday.” Leaders are admired for their unwillingness to give in to problems. Your next promotion may come as a result of showing the determination to find a solution for which others have given up searching.

GGA’s Henry DeLozier penned this article for Golf Course Industry Magazine.