She’s Doing It: Women’s Golf Evangelist Joan Cavanaugh

by Gloria Feldt on August 8th, 2012
in Create a Movement, Leadership, Power Tools, She's Doing It, Tell Your Story and tagged , , , , , , , ,

I get the power of golf.  That’s why I took it as my physical education in college. And I garnered the only “C” in my life. I’d have failed had it not been for the written final exam that brought my dismal playing score up from the tank.

So I chuckled when I received this e-mail from Joan Cavanaugh, former Dominican nun, creator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s recorded tours, teacher, entrepreneur, and the founder of the Boardroom Golf Institute:

“I listened to you on the Takeaway and thought this is a woman who should and would enjoy the benefits of the golf game…I would really like you to join me next Thursday at the business golf workshop. Golf is a great strategy for making new business relationships with men as well as women. It will be a fun packed day and you will go away educated about the game, elevate and empowered to play the game.”

Oh, if she only knew, I thought. I politely declined and thought that would be that.

Instead, she wrote back, and I discovered one of the most fascinating women around.

Her second epistle began cheerily, “I just opened a fortune cookie at lunch and I think the message has always been my mantra. ‘Enthusiasm is the greatest asset in the world. It beats money, power, and influence.’”

Her enthusiasm infuses everything she says.

She’d ordered No Excuses because she connected its messages with her motivation to help women grasp the importance of “getting out on the playing field where they will be visible to gain status and power.”

Golf, she declares over and over, is not an end in itself but a means to an end.

“The hub of American business is the golf course. It is not a game for women who like golf, it’s a game they should and could play to take them to parity. It offers limitless opportunities to rise to the top.

Granted it’s not the only way but I find women are intimidated by this simple game by the very excuses you speak of. They are afraid to be front and center with men.”

Joan grew up on the south side of Chicago in an Irish Catholic family with three brothers, which forced her to learn how to hold her ground early in life.  When I asked when she knew she had the “power to,” she launched into describing her “skinny 6-year-old” self.

Her father nurtured her love of reading by taking her to the public library each week. She especially loved biographies and was inspired by reading about people like Susan B. Anthony, who accomplished great things. So she created a lending library in the family’s basement, charging children a penny a day to borrow a book.

A take-action kind of natural leader, she noticed stars in windows of some homes at the end of World War II. When she learned this represented families that had someone fighting in the war, she organized neighborhood children to ring doorbells of homes with stars and say how happy they were the soldiers would be coming home.

Moved by the gesture, people gave her money. This scandalized her mother, but reinforced for Joan the value of reaching out and making community.

Going straight from high school to thirteen years as a Dominican nun, she was propelled always by her joyous sense of community and responsibility.

Then she left the order and moved to New York.

“I was married young and naive at 30 and it only lasted three years because of the infidelity of my then husband. I spent thirteen years as a potential candidate for “Sex in the City” although the producers were unaware of my existence. I started a successful publishing company, met my soul mate (an avid golfer) and helped raise his three teenagers.”

That’s when she discovered the benefits of golf to herself as a business owner and soon became passionate about promoting the game to other women to help them rise to the top “where they should be.”

Women, Joan believes, have the very skills that make them excel at what golf is really about.

Ten percent of its value has to do with skill. The rest has to do with building relationships, communicating in a key social environment where you see personalities and learn to trust other players. You bond in a way that doesn’t happen in any other format in the business world.  “You’re branding yourself, networking, decision making.”

Women, she says, must understand that anyone looking to promote someone is looking for more than skills; he or she is looking for what you can see on the golf course–strategy, humor, personality.  And the proximity to powerful people in a golf game setting makes it more likely that you will be the one chosen.

Quoting Plato, Joan says, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than a year of conversation. And I say to women, your next up is not who you work with but who you play with.”

Now a widow with five grandchildren, Joan presents golf workshops to give women her E-Z Business Golf method.  She’s writing a book entitled The Game of Business, Ascent to the Boardroom to get the message to more women.

“When I see the research that says women are still not in the inner circle, I say the inner circle is available to you. Now let me tell you why it’s so important for you to be there, and how playing golf can help.  Women offer excuses. It’s not as difficult to play the game as you think it is.  Get in the game and then change the game, move up the ladder. Go where things are and make them yours.”

Gloria Feldt

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

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7 Responses to She’s Doing It: Women’s Golf Evangelist Joan Cavanaugh

  1. I think this is a great example of someone making the “if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em” strategy work, which of course has merit and especially over the last 30+ years, was an important and needed skill. I am grateful that this is less and less the case as I’m more of the “change the game, re-write the rules” type who also happens to love the nature & the environment (not very compatible with golf courses) and really dislike the culture of a game that until recently, was still getting into trouble for racist comments towards non-white players. I’m glad people of color are now being “allowed” into the proverbial country club, but I for one would rather opt out of this one.

    I do think this is one path, but I would love for younger women to know there are other ways to build relationships, especially when you hit the big times. For example my partners and clients were always pleased to know that with me the “social activities” would be something out of the norm, like a weekend in Barcelona or a fabulous reservation at a top tier restaurant with impossible to get tables, or a behind the scenes theatre experience. The thing that the “inner” circle loves is uniqueness and yes, your ability to “play,” which can be done many, many places beyond the old boys playground. Places that don’t leave nearly as bad a taste in the mouth of the more conscientious ones among us.

  2. Gloria Feldt says:

    Great examples, Nathalie, of alternative ways to play your own game rather than joining one you don’t particularly like. I wish I’d been on your team when you took them to Barcelona!

    I do know a number of women who love golf and I think that’s great for them, but like you, there is nothing that will get me back on the course except to walk around it if there’s a jogging path.

    The principle of integrating play into leadership is a good one, and I applaud Joan for making that case even though golf isn’t the game for me. I even tried to build playfulness into the design of a national headquarters office once. It threw some people off but that is kind of the point.

    My favorite female-centric example of a similar concept is when a female colleague who celebrated a business success by taking her entire staff for an afternoon of shoe shopping and she bought them each–men and women–an extravagant pair of shoes. I suppose the guys could always buy new golf shoes :-)

  3. I am a fair weather golfer who has never understood why a course has 18 holes! 14 is about my max. It certainly won’t take me to the top.

    I think as a sport it has lots of advantages – mixed ability levels can play together, and it can be played by all ages. Good courses are usually in nice places and it’s an excellent way to get fresh air and exercise. Men and women can play together and 19th holes are also welcome.

    I agree that the “closed shop-ness” we saw in the US Masters was appalling and why Ginny Rommetty accepted that situation was beyond me. But using a sport or social situation to successfully tap into a network is an additional tool – just as joining a theatre group or doing volunteer work can extend connections.

    One thing that the Olympics has shown is that it’s great to have women in sports as successful role models.
    Posted by Dorothy Dalton

  4. Katherine Pasco Larsen • What a great feature, and fascinating woman. I also liked the discussion that followed, golf is just not something I enjoy so it was fun to read the other examples that came out of that. Some of those sounded like a lot of fun, especially Barcelona and shoe shopping.

  5. Gloria Feldt says:

    Katherine and Dorothy, it would be fun to brainstorm examples of play that we would authentically enjoy and could appropriately incorporate into our leadership. I always made it a point to cook one of my personal specialties for my leadership team (mixed male and female) a couple of times a year at my home. I still get notes from people who worked with me decades ago saying they are thinking about my Texas chili, or wishing for a slice of the prizewinning chocolate cheesecake.

  6. I took up golf about 7 years ago, and have played more seriously the past 3 years. I found that it really opened up the horizon for communicating with business interlocutors, particularly the men. You get to know and trust someone when you walk 18 holes together. You get a great deal of one-on-one or small group time that you can’t get in the office. And it’s a legitimate way to get out of the office and do something healthy in the name of “doing business.” I highly recommend it!

  7. Tamara Fagin says:

    Loved this post and am a big fan of pretty much all sports but especially golf. I find it is the best way to bond with my almost 79-year old dad. I know this post is from late summer but… where I live (Silicon Valley), they say that cycling is the new golf.

    They say – no one has time for golf. As a mother of two young kids married to a non-golfer, I understand that and appreciate it. Who has time for 5 or 6 hours of golf on a busy soccer/flag football-filled weekend? How can I justify that much time away from my family? I better damn well enjoy it and get a lot out of it!

    Cycling, on the other hand, is something that my whole family can and does enjoy. The bummer of it though is that it does not lend itself to the type of leisurely discussion and observation of character, sense of humor, strategy, etc. that follows from a nice golf outing. Or does it? Hmmn…

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