Franza: Golf’s premier event thrived under Payne

As chairman of Augusta National, Billy Payne exhibited superb leadership qualities

It’s not easy following a great and successful leader.

 

In most cases, you pale in comparison based upon your performance – e.g., Phil Bengston, the successor to legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi, and Ray Goff, the successor to University of Georgia coaching giant Vince Dooley.

In others,you don’t get the credit you deserve, such coach George Seifert (replacing Bill Walsh). Seifert won 75 percent of his games, took the San Francisco 49ers to five NFC championship games and won two Super Bowls, the second coming in his sixth season after Walsh – and still was seen as someone who was set up for success by his predecessor.

In recent Augusta news, that likely means a tough task has been thrust upon Fred Ridley in succeeding Billy Payne as chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club. But, rather than focus on the road ahead, I would rather look back and learn from the successful leadership of Mr. Payne.

I have always been a firm believer that situations often dictate the types of leadership required. Sometimes, particularly when an organization has been unsuccessful, it needs a transformative leader, an agent of change. Changes in leadership often are required because of organizational failure. So when looking for a new leader, transformative leaders are desirable.

However, when an organization is performing well, typically the need is not for a change agent, but rather the need is for a “steward” who can maintain the culture and trajectory of the organization.

Similar to the transformative-vs.-steward contrast, there is the visionary vs. the “consolidator.” The visionary is the “big picture” leader who sets the direction for the organization, but has less interest in the processes necessary to execute that direction. The consolidator is a leader who typically follows the visionary and puts the structure in place to consolidate the gains of the visionary.

One more set of contrasting leadership styles is the more directive or task-oriented approach vs. the more relationship-oriented approach. In sports, we often alternate these types of approaches when coaching hires are made. A disciplinarian or directive coach often is succeeded by what is termed a “player’s coach,” and vice-versa. Each type of coach tends to have a limited shelf life, and then that style stops working.

So, how does this all relate to Mr. Payne? While most of us tend to function well in one domain or the other – transformative or steward; visionary or consolidator; task-oriented or player’s coach – Mr. Payne appears to be one of those rare individuals who successfully can straddle each of those apparently divergent pairs. He demonstrated that in both leading the bidding and executing process leading to the 1996 Summer Olympic Games and as chairman at Augusta National.

The 1996 Summer Olympics was the first such endeavor in which the same person led both the bid process and execution of the games themselves. Mr. Payne showed himself to be the visionary who saw Atlanta as an Olympic host when very few did as he led the Atlanta through the bidding process. However, most of those who provide the vision that lead to successful bids are not around to execute the vision.

Mr. Payne was the first to remain in charge as the consolidator to ultimately execute the games themselves. As someone who lived in metro Atlanta for 22 out of the past 30 years, I can say that Mr. Payne’s efforts have had a profoundly positive effect on the area.

With a club and tournament as steeped in history as Augusta National and the Masters, you might expect a chairman’s tenure to be about stewardship – continuing the culture and trajectory of the club and the tournament. But, Mr. Payne’s tenure as chairman also has been a transformative one.

Early in his tenure, the nation faced a financial crisis that had a direct impact on the growth of golf. Since then, he led multiple transformative steps that have helped build the game socially and internationally. The acceptance of the first women members of Augusta National has had a profound social effect both in and out of golf. Embracing golf in the Asian Pacific and Latin America — and creating the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship — are growing the game around the world and among young people in this country.

Finally, his expansion of the club’s facilities, such as the increased parking and the new media center, has demonstrated not only his vision for the greatest sporting event in the world but the ability to consolidate gains and execute that vision.

He has demonstrated a great mix of disciplinarian and player’s coach to successfully navigate his powerful membership and the professional golfers who play in the Masters.

I don’t envy Mr. Ridley having to follow Mr. Payne, a leader for all seasons. No matter what he does, he likely will not get much credit. However, as they usually do, my first impression is that the leaders on Washington Road have picked the right chairman.

The biggest near-term challenges facing Augusta National and the Masters is how to best address the impact technology is having on the course and the tournament, and having a golfer of Mr. Ridley’s pedigree (U.S. Amateur champion, Walker Cup captain, Masters participant) addressing those challenges appears prescient.

 

The writer is dean of Augusta University’s James M. Hull College of Business. Reach him at rfranza@augusta.edu.

 

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