Two Powerful Life Lessons for Sales Managers and Salespeople from Jordan Spieth’s Caddie

Sales Evolution Blog

by Mike Weinberg

It’s hard not to love Jordan Spieth. I’m not even a very big golf fan, but like many others, I have been so impressed by Spieth’s professionalism, demeanor, skill, grit and game. When interviewed or during press conferences, he comes across with the maturity of a 40 year-old. He’s not quite yet 24.

On Sunday he won The British Open playing one of the most memorable, remarkable rounds of golf in the history of major championships. I won’t even attempt to recap it. There’s been plenty written about it and if you’re unfamiliar, I’d encourage you to find a few stories that chronicle the amazing and crazy day he had.

Today, I’m more interested in sharing the takeaways from the integral role Spieth’s caddie played. I think there are some powerful lessons for those of us who manage others, and those who are individual producers.

Lesson 1:  Speak the Truth (in love) and Refocus on the Task at Hand

What struck me was something the announcers, particularly the rookie on the broadcast team, Jim “Bones” McKay (Phil Mickelson’s long-time caddy), caught during the very first hole. Spieth hit a booming drive but didn’t get the bounce he wanted and the ball ended up in long rough with a difficult side-hill lie. A microphone picked up Spieth bemoaning the fact that he hit a good shot and the result was not fair. Once Spieth stopped whining, his caddie, the now very famous Michael Greller (whose story has basically gone viral – from 4th grade math teacher to caddie for the best golfer in the world) said just a few very important words: “Get over it.”  And then followed up with, “168 to the front.”

How great is that? It reminded me of an expression that my dad used throughout my childhood: No where is it written that life is fair. 

Greller’s willingness to speak truth to Spieth was critical. It was just a touch of tough love at just the right time. He was basically saying that we’ve got five hours of golf ahead of us; stop whining and let’s focus on the task ahead. It’s 168 yards to the green. Stop bellyaching about fairness and hit the next shot where it needs to be.

Sales Managers – when your people are whining about life not being fair, nasty competitors, moronic procurement policies, the lack of leads, their lame territory, how do you respond? And when they are done venting, do you set them straight or allow them to wallow in pity playing the victim? It’s fine to show sympathy (most of the time), but the reality is that there is a game to be played – The Sales Game. And it requires focus and it also requires sellers to take full responsibility for results. Winners in sales don’t see themselves as victims and they definitely don’t walk around perpetually whining about the unfair hand they’ve been dealt.

Salespeople – when you get dealt a bad hand, how are you responding? How distracted do you get and how long do you allow yourself to play the victim card?  And who do you have in your life that is allowed to speak the truth (in love) to you? Who do you go to when you need a kick in the ass and a reminder about the facts of life?

Lesson 2:  Be an Encourager and a Blesser of People / Remind Others of their Giftedness, Talent, Value and Worth

By the seventh hole, it was apparent that Spieth was not his normal self. It was obvious he was struggling. He had blown the lead he started the day with and his confidence evaporated. The announcers were reminding us of the 2016 Masters tournament where Spieth collapsed on the final day. They theorized that negative thoughts and doubt were creeping into Spieth’s head. We (the viewers) did not know about this exchange between Greller (his caddie) and Spieth, but we later learned from interviews that after Spieth hit his tee shot, Greller called him back to the tee box to talk with him – not exactly something you see very often on the course. Turns out that Greller decided it was time for a pep talk and to remind Jordan Spieth who he was and what a great competitor and gifted athlete he is. You see, the week before the event, Spieth was on vacation in Cabo San Lucas, and this was not just any vacation. He was hanging with Michael Jordan and Michael Phelps. And here is the blessing of blessings that Greller verbalized to Spieth:

“Do you remember that group you were with last week? You’re that caliber of an athlete. But I need you to believe that right now because you’re in a great position in this tournament. This is a new tournament. We’re starting over here.”

Honestly, I am choked up from typing Greller’s quote. Can you imagine the power of those words of affirmation? The caddie is telling his player that he’s the same caliber athlete as the greatest Olympic swimmer who won the most gold medals in history and as the greatest NBA basketball player ever. The empowering and life-giving message he was delivering…You are freaking Jordan Spieth! Now act like it. Believe it. We are in position to win this thing. We are starting over right now believing in yourself! You are in the same caliber of athlete as Michael Jordan and Michael Phelps. Let’s go win.

Sales Managers – I understand that you may not have Jordan Spieth, Michael Jordan, Floyd Mayweather, Tom Brady, Serena Williams or Roger Federer on your sales team. Nonetheless, each of your people are there for a reason. They each have unique gifting. Hopefully, they all have a certain level of natural talent that should enable them to win a significant amount of business. (If not, then we need to talk about Talent Management, and I’d point you to Chapter 23 of Sales Management. Simplified. – Talent Management Can Make or Break the Sales Leader.) Are you encouraging the hearts of your sales team members? Do you speak words of affirmation when salespeople need to be reminded who they are and who they work for? Do you take time to point out the positive characteristics of your people and remind them how those very characteristics are why they will be be successful?

Salespeople – which victories in your past can you rely on when you need a pick-me-up? What positive mental tapes can you replay in your mind to help frame a positive attitude and remind you that you have what it takes to win? And if your sales manager is not engaging and challenging your heart, then who (or what) else in your life do you look to? We all need affirmation. Are there peers on the sales team with whom you can agree to mutually encourage each other? Or are there others outside the company who can remind you of your abilities and value as a person? What do you read to inspire yourself, to fill your mind with positive truths, and to guard the condition of your heart?

I am very intentional about not overtly sharing my faith in these articles and it’s been a long time since I’ve even brought it up. But this is one of those times where it would be odd and disingenuous not to at least mention that I find my affirmation in God. It’s his love for me and acceptance of me that I can reliably lean on and turn to as strong, constant reminders that I am valued and valuable. And that belief certainly anchors and empowers me through the daily grind and ups and downs of business and life.

I don’t know what or who it is that you turn to when you need your heart encouraged or when you’re in a rough patch at work, but I certainly hope that your sales leader understands the importance of his/her job and the impact that the sales manager’s role can have in your life. And if you are not getting that need met from your manager, it’s imperative that you find affirmation and encouragement elsewhere.

This weekend I certainly was inspired by Jordan Spieth, and maybe more so by his brilliant caddie, Michael Greller, who provided a powerful example of both speaking truth and encouraging the heart.

Here’s to great sales leadership and tons of New Sales.