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Brooks Koepka: Managing Insults And Slights All The Way Up The Leaderboard

If you’ve ever been slighted or snubbed, then you and PGA golfer Brooks Koepka have something in common. You might remember that I was just writing about Koepka after he won the U.S. Open in June, completing a particularly grueling course without complaint. He didn’t whine, complain, or vent his frustrations – as many of his opponents were doing. He simply competed and won.

You might think that after winning his second U.S. Open in a row, Koepka would get some respect. You’d be wrong. Leading up to last week’s PGA Championship, Koepka was generally ignored until he posted a blistering 63 in the second round. Then the media took note, but just barely. Even on the last day of play, the story wasn’t that Koepka was on the verge of winning three out of his last four majors, it was Tiger Woods coming from behind and almost winning. The headlines mostly blared, “Tiger almost wins” rather than, “Koepka Wins Again.”

The Great thing about Brooks Koepka is that he never let those headlines ruin his play.

If the insults, the snubs, the slights on his talent and skill from the media’s casual disregard of this Great competitor mattered to Koepka, he never let it show. He played the next hole. When the crowd roared during his backswing because Tiger Woods just sank a putt, Koepka kept his head down and followed through for a beauty of a shot down the fairway. The world might’ve been watching the tournament because everybody was hoping Tiger would do it, but Brooks wasn’t worried about the world.

He was focused on the next shot.

That’s a skill set not many of us have. Do you worry about the attention or approval of others? I know I can get caught up in the slights of others, whether they’re giving me what I believe is my proper due. Why did I not get the credit for that great idea? Where’s my recognition?

Or you could say, “All that is irrelevant. I just need to focus on what lies ahead.”

My 10-year-old son worries about what other people think of him. He’s at the stage of life where you start becoming hyper-aware of those kinds of things. This was a big discussion for us over the last couple of days. As he shared his fears with me, I kept reminding him that it just doesn’t matter what other people think of you. What matters is what you think of you. You can’t worry about what others do because we can’t control what they do. Use your focus on those things you can control.

I know that sounds very parental. But I watched a young man manage that mindset all the way to the PGA Championship last week and it was powerful to see.

Worry rules most people’s lives. It’s why many fail in group dynamics because they’re so worried about everybody else that they can’t be their authentic selves. When I watched Brooks Koepka, he doesn’t even flinch when the crowd cheers for the other guy because he cannot control that. He controls what’s in his control.

What kind of slights have you experienced in your career? Were you passed up for a promotion?

Are colleagues or peers getting more attention or recognition in meetings or events?

Maybe a competitor is making a splash at a conference, showing up your company and your product.

On a broader level, slights and insults in the workplace have a disastrous effect on productivity and morale. Your team suffers when incivility rules. A McKinsey&Company study showed that workplace slights decreased employee performance and commitment to the team, increased turnover, and negatively impacted customer service when employees took out their workplace frustrations on customers. Team managers should take note; when you allow a toxic culture of slights and insults to grow in your team, your bottom line will take a massive hit.

As an individual though, you can’t do much about how others treat you. What you can do is focus on you. Head down, follow through, next shot. Don’t let any slights you’ve experienced keep you from achieving greatness.

Koepka’s been managing these challenges for years. Leading up to the 2014 PGA Championship, famed golfer Tom Watson asked Koepka if they could play a few holes together. Before they started playing, Watson asked Koepka what club he played out of. He thought Koepka, ranked 70th in the world at the time, was a club pro, not a PGA professional. Koepka remembers the conversation. He filed the slight away…and now chuckles at the memory.

Brooks Koepka’s never got the attention or recognition he deserved. But if he let those slights get to him, he would never have achieved the success he’s enjoying now. Instead, he put his head down, played his best golf, and focused on the next shot.

If you want to join the top of your industry’s leaderboard, do the same!

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About Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger

Don Yaeger is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP), longtime Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated, 11-time New York Times best-selling author, leadership expert and executive coach.

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