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What every leader can learn from PGA Pro Michael Block

5.24.23 / By Kim Allen

PGA Pro Michael Block captured the hearts of people everywhere last weekend when he competed as a qualifying club pro at the 105th PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, NY.

A quick primer for non-golf fans:

The PGA Championship is played annually in May and is considered one of golf’s major events. Each year, a number of club pros who are PGA of America members qualify to compete in the tournament, which typically pays millions of dollars to the winner. Very few club pros, if any, make the cut. Until this weekend.

Block, a club pro at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, CA, scored well enough on Thursday to head into the weekend, finishing out his final round playing with none other than golf great Rory McIroy. It was a fairy-tale weekend, and Block gradually amassed a fan following as the tournament drew on, working his way into the hearts of spectators everywhere. The icing on the cake was a slam-dunk hole-in-one on the 15th hole, which really lit the torch on his already skyrocketing fame.

As fantastical, remarkable and unbelievable as it all was, it was the way he handled himself in national media interviews during and after the championship that exposed his real magic. An unlikely candidate for someone you’d seek out for leadership inspiration, Block gave anyone who’s balancing life and career a few leadership lessons throughout the week:

1. “You gotta be yourself.”

It’s a sentiment Block shared during his interview the next morning with Good Morning America. “You play your best when you try to be just yourself. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. That’s what I’ve been doing lately and it’s really helped my game and it’s made the hole bigger.”

This personally resonates. Authentic, genuine interactions are core to who I am as a person, and therefore as a leader. I don’t show up differently according to the situation. And I sense this is what has supported any success I’ve enjoyed, because it makes me relatable and approachable.

2. “Living the dream.”

When asked if he would consider joining the PGA Tour, Block explained to multiple media outlets that he was already living the dream. Golfers on the PGA Tour leave their families to arrive in a new city every Monday, practice until Wednesday and then start competing on Thursday in the hopes of making it to Friday, where they actually get paid. Block explained he was still golfing for a living as a club professional, but was able to be with his wife and sons at the end of each day.

A leader I admire once explained this sentiment differently. She was asked about work/life balance and explained that we’re all juggling many balls. The key in any given moment was to know which one is glass and not let it drop. Both Block and this leader are identifying how important priorities are. If you know what’s most important to you, you’ll be living the dream.

3. “Why not?”

As leaders, sometimes fear of what might happen can hinder success. That same fear can present perceived, insurmountable obstacles. Block—whose personal golf balls are printed with the phrase “Why Not?”—reminds us we should be asking what’s the best thing that might happen, not the worst.

It’s perhaps the most profound leadership lesson I have learned over the past three years. Imposter syndrome, the inner critic and failure aversion are all other names for this professional demon. But that demon can be battled by focusing on what is possible rather than what is not.

Michael Block’s career aspirations likely don’t involve becoming a CEO. He’s made it very clear in his unexpected, rapid rise to fame that he’s perfectly happy where he is. But for this CEO, he provided a lifetime of leadership inspiration with his candor on the course.

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Kim Allen

Kim puts our people front and center, building on empathy and quick decision-making that have served her teams well. She started her career at Mower and soon found her home with DS+CO, where she led our public relations team and expanded her skillset into consumer, B2B, telecom and human services. In 2020, she took the helm, guiding our agency into a new era. She’s a Forty Under 40 and ATHENA Young Professional, is DEI certified, and sits on the boards of the American Heart Association of NY, Mercy Flight Central, Alfred University and the RIT Advertising & Marketing Program.