How Extraordinary Golf Leads to Extraordinary Leadership

I had to give a talk recently at the Society for Information Management Regional Leadership Forum.  Someone asked me what I did in my spare time.  After wondering what the heck was spare time, I babbled some stuff — reading, Sudoku, golf.  Then the guy interrupted me and asked incredulously – you like to play golf? Well, the answer was absolutely NOT.  However, considering some have said that g.o.l.f. stands for gentlemen only ladies forbidden, a lady CIO in this town and in this industry needs to get some pink balls and a pink golf glove and stand on the red tees on behalf of information technology. Garry Gaukler, Linda Cureton, Gary Cox, Mark Hagerty 2007 NASA HQ Golf Event

So I was intrigued by the topic Making Today’s Dream Tomorrow’s Reality: What Golf Can Teach us About High Performance, Learning, and Enjoyment at the Goddard Space Flight Center Exploring Leadership Colloquium.   The talk was given by Fred Shoemaker, golf professional, coach and author of the book Extraordinary Golf. 

He started the lesson with a small group the day before.  He challenged us on our notion of what our goals were in the golf coaching session.  The responses were not surprising: stop my slice; correct my form; hit more solid shots; etc. However, his coaching focused on two things: being “present” on the course and knowing your target. 

Staying in the Present

In looking at the things that golfers are working on to improve their golf game, Shoemaker notes that on average, this takes up about 5% of the time that players spend in a round.  The other 95% of the time is spent walking or riding around to your next shot.  He discovered that the people who are most likely to improve are the people who have mastered that 95% time between the shots.  This is what he calls being present on the course.  Not living in the past of your historic performance … nor the future of wondering if you will look good … but the present of being committed and enjoying the game.

What is your target?

The second learning moment was understanding what our target is.  As we address the ball, is the target the ball? The plane on the backswing? Or that hole under the flag in the distance? He video tapes golfers with their normal swing. Then he removes the ball and has us release the club towards the target.  This was transformative.  Suddenly, everyone developed swings like the golf pros.  In just a few seconds, it was like the Golf Channel.  What a difference the right target made!

Fear, trust, and courage

In order to learn and grow in anything, it requires the willingness to explore and take risks and experience some amount of discomfort and confusion.  We label this discomfort fear and then start to narrow ourselves through the limitations that fear imposes. 

But the good thing about fear is that without it, we wouldn’t need courage.  Courage helps manage the fear, but trust keeps fear from recurring.  Developing trust in yourself, and in this specific example in your golf swing, gives us the ability to execute with confidence.

Are you committed?

We all have our purpose in playing golf … just as we have our purpose in life.  We confuse performance or the goals with purpose.  We are there to enjoy the game, not to execute the perfect drive.  Are we committed to looking good with the perfect drive? Or are we committed to enjoying an amazing sport?

We do this in the workplace as individuals, managers, and leaders.  Are we committed to the purpose of the project?  Have we lost sight of the organization’s target because we are overly focusing on performance? Now certainly performance is critical, but we don’t want a successful operation and a dead patient!

So in the putting exercise that Shoemaker had us do I learned something about golf and about myself.  As I addressed the ball, dressed smartly with a pink shirt, pink glove and a pink visor, I wasn’t thinking about the pink shoes that I forgot and left in the trunk, but I was thinking about the fact that for the first time, I focused on the ball as my target and was actually enjoying the sweet sound of a well-struck ball and the feeling of a good swing.

Linda Cureton, CIO NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

ITIL We Meet Again

ITIL We Meet Again

Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) provides a detailed description of important IT practices with comprehensive checklists, tasks and procedures that can be tailored to any IT organization.  Implementing ITIL is a critical IT strategic project for Goddard Space Flight Center.  It is also a critical aspect of implementing NASA’s upcoming agency-wide IT acquisitions, I3P.  Because of its importance, I asked the NASA agency lead, Cliff Ward and my center lead, Esmond Marvray to give my leadership team an overview at my leadership retreat last week.

I first met ITIL in the 1980s.  That’s also when I met my then soon-to-be future husband, Doug Cureton.  I was a happy-go-lucky IBM Virtual Machine Systems Programmer.   As a young Baby Boomer with a one-pot-per-day coffee habit sustained by lots of carbohydrates, I excelled in IBM Assembler Language and had great logic and problem determination skills.  He was a process oriented Data Center Manager managing one of the Department of Justice central mission critical data centers.  A Traditionalist with a healed ulcer, he managed a tight ship with high availability and low incidents of operator error.  Oh, the good-ole-days – when programmers wrote real code; 5 nines didn’t mean 6 sigmas; and Data Centers weren’t on people’s desks. Teddy Bear - VM Mascot that makes you feel warm and fuzzy

I remember one day, I was writing an Assembler Language Program.  I was trying to tell a printer to “do something” and had no documentation.  So, I just went through all the half-word hexadecimal possibilities (ok, ok, I know that was real geeky!) and wrote down what happened.  A little dull, but the only way with no doc.  Just storing commands into storage, seeing what happened, jotting it down, and repeating… 0000, 0004, 0008, 000C… etc.  So, to pass the time away, I called my girlfriend Stephanie.  Next thing I knew, the system froze.  Oh, crap girl, let me call you back.  As I’m staring at the screen in shock and horror, Doug Cureton appears at my door. In the delightful drawl of a West Virginia coal miner’s son, he asks … What have you done … this time? Oopsie.

So, in his problem management log, he records – Unknown error systems programmer reviewing core dump.  Whew! Then asks me to do him a favor and look over this ITIL stuff he just got.  He wanted to know if he should do anything with it. Of course after that oopsie, I had to look at them.  Interesting, but if you had Doug Cureton, you didn’t need ITIL.

Recently, I was having dinner with a Twitter colleague, Kevin Behr where we were lamenting the “power-off/power-on” and the “re-boot” generation.  He learned his craft from his father’s knee – a mainframe computer engineer.  Oh, I bet he loved the smell of solder in the morning after preventative maintenance – it smelled like victory.

Looking back to the good-ole-days, the need to capture knowledge and practices from folks like Kevin’s Dad or Doug Cureton seemed clear.  In today’s complex world of large IT integrators (gulp) and diverse sourcing strategies it is even more critical to convert the oral history and tradition of a rich era into knowledge and information that can be shared and applied across organizations.  Furthermore, our ability to collaborate on many levels will be inhibited if we don’t successfully step up to this challenge.

Oh, the good-ole-days.  Though I’ve traded reading hexadecimal dumps for working mega Sudoku puzzles, I haven’t traded the values that I learned in an era gone by.  The importance of this to the learning IT organization is crucial.

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

What’s IT Got to Do With It?

I’ve written a few times about the Relevant and the Irrelevant CIO.  It’s rather trite now to refer to the atomic power of Web 2.0 and similar technologies, but what’s not readily apparent is the impact it has on the role of CIOs and other information technology leaders. 

When I was a happy dreamy mathematics student in undergraduate school, I had the dubious pleasure of tutoring some engineering students who really didn’t believe that mathematics was a legitimate discipline.  They believed that it was merely a tool to solve engineering problems.  I trying to explain the foundational theory to one knuckle-head and he said impatiently, “look, just give me the formula”. 

Well, today, as consumers know more and more about IT and as Web 2.0 puts the power of technology into the hands of the end users, the legitimacy of the Discipline of IT may be lost on most and at the very least, the need or relevance of the role of the CIO is dubious at best.  This week, my mother announced to me that she NOW knows what Twitter is and doesn’t need her CIO (and she’s thinking – whatever the heck a C.I.O is) daughter to explain it to her.  And oh, by the way, she heard about it on Oprah.

The following is one of my most favorite CIO quotes:

“Agency executives know that CIOs provide a vital resource to organizations—they just don’t know what it is,” – Dan Matthews, former CIO Department of Transportation and current Lockheed Martin executive

Today, the CIO’s customers only want her to:

·         Make their blackberry work

·         Make sure that email gets delivered

·         Order a laptop or a desktop

·         Just go away


Today, with the advent of solutions like iPhones/iTunes,  gmail/yahoo mail,  and managed laptop services from suppliers like Dell or HP, there’s only one thing left for CIO’s to do: JUST GO AWAY!


So then what exactly is the discipline of IT and what should a relevant CIO be doing?


First, she must understand her organization’s mission needs and goals from a non-IT perspective. If all you think about is email delivery, then you’re doomed. We need to think about delivering our agency’s services.  Oh, but delivering basic IT services is a hygiene issue – if you don’t do it, you stink … but if that’s all you do, you’re ineffective.


Second, she must understand what IT can do. The blocking and tackling must be done. And you’ve got to stay on top of your game — understanding the rules and suited up with the right equipment.


Finally, she must ensure that what the mission needs and what IT can do are aligned and in sync.  This means having informed decision-making processes to do just that.  It also means that the organization has a strategy or architectural roadmap to solve the organizations problems with IT. In IT jargon, this would be the discipline of IT Governance and Enterprise Architecture.


I end with apologies to Tina Turner:


What’s IT got to do, got to do with it
What’s IT but a second hand tool … for sweet old-fashioned fools
What’s IT got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a IT when a IT can be broken


(Repeat and fade)


Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center