Episode 1: Jaime Diaz - The CEO of My Team

Episode 1: Jaime Diaz - The CEO of My Team

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In the inaugural episode of the podcast, BRG’s Phil Rowley speaks with Jaime Diaz of the Golf Channel, and formerly of Golf World. Phil and Jaime cover what inspires and motivates leaders, transitioning from print to broadcast, the preparation that goes into The 19th Hole on the Golf Channel, and how the individual sport of golf is increasingly embracing the concept of teams.

Phil and Jaime also discuss the self-sufficiency of golfers like Zach Johnson and Jack Nicklaus, Ben Crenshaw’s status as a student of the game, and how Tiger Woods is proud of being stubborn.


S1: 00:06             

[music] Welcome to Intelligence That Works. I'm Phil Rowley, executive director and chief revenue officer of global consulting firm BRG. Intelligence That Works is more than the name of this podcast. It's what makes BRG tick. We're questioners, challengers, even truth-seekers committed to uncovering the substance beneath the surface of the biggest issues and challenges facing business leaders today. We meet some innovative individuals along the way, and in each episode, I'll speak with one of them about change, leadership, and the possibilities that lie ahead.

This podcast, like BRG itself, is about harnessing our collective expertise to deliver inspired insights and practical strategies that help organizations stay ahead of what's next.

In this episode, I'm very excited to be speaking with Jaime Diaz, a name golf fans will no doubt recognize from his work on the Golf Channel; also as an author and before that as the editor-in-chief of Golf World. We're speaking to Jaime today from his office at the Golf Channel in Orlando. Jaime, thank you so much for being here.

S2: 01:26             

Pleasure to be with you, Phil.

S1: 01:28             

Jaime, I want to start by asking about the transition you've made from being a print journalist to an on-camera commentator or—really—personality. What's that been like? How's that changed your thinking as to how you're delivering information?

S2: 01:45             

Well, it's been a big change. I have always really admired the guys on camera. I never really saw myself as being one. I would always fantasize maybe on a car ride or something in terms of, like, talking something out, and if I'd heard something on television that I thought, "I would like to have said this." And I wasn't really auditioning. I just thought the process was fascinating because it's difficult. Writing is hard, and in many ways, television is easier in terms of the actual physical toll of being in a chair for five hours writing a story, or being on camera for two minutes.

I think the thing about writing is that you get used to revision, and you have the total freedom to revise constantly, until the deadline finally becomes impossible and you’ve got to hand in your story. But generally, you have enough time to really get it the way you want it to.

In television, you have to really live with that first take, and if it's live, especially, there's no second take. There's no opportunity to revise, and so you kick yourself sometimes and say, "I wish I said this. I wish I said that." And I think the challenge becomes, how do you get your mind in a place where it's prepared but it's also relaxed so that you could be conversational and trust your mind to come up with the right things at the moment?

S1: 02:56             

So before you go on the air—and obviously you're going to be responding to things that have happened either prior day or the prior round, or you're looking out into the future. Does the team or the panel—do you all come up with a consensus as to, "Here's the four or five things we want to make sure we cover"? And is there maybe then an agreement of pro/con and who's going to take what positions, or is a lot of that just free-flowing?

S2: 03:22             

Well, you want to be free-flowing in the moment, but it's very structured in advance, and the producers are really the engines of the operation. They create these very elaborate rundowns that are almost to the minute for each segment. In an hour show, there's maybe eleven segments, and usually they're delineated by commercial breaks. You go in between those commercial breaks. That's a segment. But there might be two, three segments within the period between commercial breaks at times, too. Now, I think the challenge then is, "Okay. This is the rundown. We're going to follow it as carefully as we can in terms of making sure we get everything in."

But if something's going really good, we're going to let it breathe and let it go, and if something's not working, we might cut it completely. So there's a lot of flexibility within that structure and within that outline, but the rundown is definitely the starting point, and it's taken very seriously.

And within that, then the discussion at a meeting, a preproduction meeting, in which the rundown is given to the "talent," that's something I haven't gotten used to either. That's now my title—talent—because that's what they call everybody who's on-air.

So I have friends who know that and give me a pretty good ribbing about it, but [laughter] the point is it's really a collaborative effort. There's very much more of a team concept in television. And not because there's not teams in magazines, but because writing's such a solitary affair; you can talk all about it, then you send the writer off on his own and he has own process.

But when you have camera people, and you have production assistants, and all kinds of people on set, everything has to be pretty organized and structured, and you can't be the missing link or the person who's kind of the loose cannon. You have to conform and fit in.

Now, when you're on the air and you're talking, that's your time to be an individual. But beyond that, you also have to be on time—I mean, before that, you have to be on time and you have to be very much aware of your coworkers and the people on the air, and not take their subjects. Because as you were saying earlier, yes, we talk about what we might—"Here's where I'm going to go. Here's where you might go." You don't want that to be completely scripted, because then it doesn't sound natural, but it's definitely a place where you have kind of this nice area that you know you can work in and still be cooperative with the other person.

S1: 05:26             

And you all do a great job of—it often does feel like—in fact, I think one of the shows might have been titled that, The 19th Hole, and it's just a group of people sitting around after the round, commenting. So great job of that discipline while still looking.

S2: 05:40             

Well, that's the goal. After all this preparation and all this minutia and everything being micromanaged, everybody says, "Be natural up there. Have a conversation. Pretend you're in a bar." And that's where the great performers, I think—because I think of a movie set and the incredible amount of infrastructure that's involved there, and the budgets, and all the time for preparation, just for the physical properties of a movie. And yet, an actor is supposed to lose himself in a role. And I don't pretend to be an actor, but I think that's the principle that you're trying to achieve when you go on the air is—you're yourself, but you're also a character who's conveying information in a very natural way. And it's a challenge, but it's really fun because they put you in a spot where, hopefully, they're going to make you look good. And when it goes well, it is kind of exhilarating.

S1: 06:29             

Yeah, Jaime, amazing. If we may, I want to turn to your time as editor-in-chief of Golf World. And again, as I prefaced, looking to get your perspective and approaches to leadership, so I'd love to hear your approach as a leader. And then if you can, as the magazine no longer was in print, what did that mean to your team, and what were some of the leadership challenges that you faced?

S2: 06:53             

When I came to Golf Digest in 2001, which is the parent company that owned Golf World, Golf Digest being a monthly magazine and Golf World being a weekly, I was under Jerry Tardy, who is a tremendous manager with incredible empathy beyond all his journalistic skills and judgment. And I tried to learn from him through osmosis, not knowing I'd ever be a manager.

Through a lot of different permutations that were going on in print journalism, I became the editor of Golf World. Jerry appointed me that. And I just try to use him as my model, but I think it's a lot of just the human transaction. And you want to treat people the way you'd like to be treated, which is such a cliché, but it's easier said than done.

I always presumed—because I loved my job, and I liked the idea that I could get better at it, and could be good at it, and that at times, you could exceed your own expectations and exceed what you thought you were capable of. And I always thought that was the goal. And in other words, this shared sense of, "Let's pursue excellence," I thought that was always a unifier, and you'd try to have people on your staff who shared in that. And I think most people—I think the goal really is to get people to buy into that idea, not just for the company, but for themselves: that work will be more fun, that it'll be more fulfilling, that we'll all be proud of what we're doing, and I think that's a real motivator for anyone to be part of. I think anybody who looks back at their career in any job goes, "Gee, that was a great team. I loved that team because we really were doing something that we thought was special, and it increased my fulfillment as a human being. I thought I contributed more just to the world that way, and I grew more as a person."

And I think that, to me, is a motivator for a leader, to try to create that atmosphere. I never really thought of myself as a leader. I just tried to do what I did well. And I hoped if I did it well that, by example, that was something that would filter down. There were a lot of people I thought did what they did better than I did, my thing. And so in a sense, they were my leaders, even though I might have had the position above them.

And I always tried—because I liked it myself, when I was in that situation as an underling, so to speak, of one-on-one conversations with the boss, and not in any sort of efficacious way, just, "How you doing? What are you thinking about? How is your life? What do you feel that you'd like to be doing in a job? What can we talk about that maybe would alter what you think would make you more productive, and more fulfilled, and also obviously, add to what we're doing as a company?"

So those were just conversations that I enjoyed, because I found myself actually talking that way naturally when I wasn't a boss, so to speak, just about the job and, "Gee, wouldn't it be great if we could do this? And this is where I'm dissatisfied." And whole sessions. And a lot of things get said that you wouldn't necessarily say in an office setting, but I think as much as possible to create that kind of natural interchange and freedom to say what you really think. I think a leader should do that.

And it should be—create the trust that a person knows that if they said something that might've been emotional or something they wish they had tempered a little, that you're not going to hold that against them. As I say, a human transaction.

So that was sort of my approach without really thinking about it. I think, in retrospect, I can see that more clearly. But I think the idea that you give people ownership of their job, and you don't micromanage them, and you put people in positions where you know they're strong and you trust them, then, to do it. And if it doesn't work out, then you talk about it later. But in general, I think when you give people that sense of, "This is your baby," they do their best.

S1: 10:15             

Yeah. Well said. And I like that human transaction as you described. And you have the benefit of getting to see Mr. Tardy and how he conducted himself. And then I also really appreciate that you're still going to make the final decision, but getting that individual input from people, very powerful. Good lessons.

S2: 10:33             

Well, thanks, Phil. And you were talking about the challenges when the print magazine stopped, which was happening throughout the whole industry of journalism. Weekly print magazines, in particular, were very much on the chopping block. And we had to let people go. And that was awful. And I think that was the biggest challenge. I don't know that I handled it that well. I tried to be empathetic. I was very much somebody who was really apologizing for the reality of what was happening. I felt terrible, but I didn't feel guilty because I realized, given the cards we were dealt, this had to be done. And I think every—I just tried to convey that as well as I could, but accepting at the same time that I was not going to be a very popular figure.

That was hard because you want to be liked. And I'd always been in a position where, "Yeah, I can just be everybody's buddy. And they like me if I do my job. And I like them because they're helping me do my job. And I'm not accountable to anybody else's future or anybody else's livelihood."

But that responsibility brings a lot of weight and also the sense that you've got to be able to forgive yourself for things that are out of your control, even though they brought hardship onto people and changed their lives. Because in journalism, there's not a soft place to land. And when somebody loses their job, that person could have been very good at their job. And there's just no fairness in the whole thing. Life has to go on for you, too, without feeling callous about it. But there's only so much you can do, and you got to let go.

And I found that very difficult, but I only gained more respect for the leaders that have to do that all the time. And they also gained more credibility when they would say, "This was a terrible, very difficult thing we did." And it wasn't just corporate speak to kind of evade responsibility. It really was felt. And I sensed that and saw it firsthand with other people in my position.

S1: 12:11             

Yeah. Powerful. I think that ability to listen, to be empathetic, to be somewhat transparent so that you're taking responsibility, critical, but you are right. As leaders, also understanding there is only so much here. A decision has been made, and you have to implement it. Great counsel.

If we may, Jaime, I do want to spend a little time about golf as an individual sport. And there's a lot of self-motivation, obviously, but now you're seeing many of the players turn to a series of coaches or to a team of support. Any comments or insights there around—does it help to have someone else sort of leading it as opposed to the golfer being the absolute CEO of the team?

S2: 12:58             

You do hear that term a lot now, "I'm the CEO of my team." Zach Johnson talks that way. He's a very bright guy. He's won the Masters and the Open Championship, little guy who battles very hard. He's also an extremely self-sufficient guy. But he has learned that there are areas that, with some people sort of filling in his gaps, so to speak, that he can improve his own.

The self-awareness involved is really, I think, enhanced when people start to get really good and start to realize, "I don't do this very well, and I could use a little bit of counsel in this area." Having said that, I really think the challenge in golf is to always remain as much as possible, especially when playing, but in general, self-sufficient. And so it becomes a tricky formula to have people helping you, but never feeling like you've given up any of the responsibility for what you've done.

And I think Jack Nicklaus was a great model for that. He actually had very small teams around him. And if there's any criticism of Jack, it was that he was a bit of a know-it-all, which I think you see a lot in golf. And I say that without trying to be pejorative. It's just that Jack always trusted his own counsel more than others. And there were things that turned out that he wasn't particularly great at, and finances were—I mean, he's done wonderfully, but he probably could have done better if he'd deferred to counsel a little bit more earlier in his career. And he would say that now. But that weakness, so to speak, was also the basis of his strength, which was he trusted himself in the moment, on a golf course, when he had to hit a shot above all else.

And that might have meant, in his head, overruling what somebody had been coaching him on. He just felt an instinct that, "I know right now what is best." And I think that it made him great. Or a lot of things made him great. Talent, of course. But that strength of mind, and that ability to live with what you believe in the moment is really crucial for a golfer.

So you see a lot of really stubborn golfers. Tiger Woods takes great pride in being very stubborn. I doubt that he's backed off of that very much. He may have made it sound a little bit more palatable to people, but he used to just say, "No, I'm stubborn, and you can't talk me out of anything. I believe this. Bam." And this is when he was 19, 20 years old, and he kind of learned that from his parents, "You know best. You're gifted. You're a prodigy. You are—" And it probably hurt him in certain aspects of life, because it was very hard probably for him to adjust away from his original conception of things. But as a golfer, it helped.

However, I think players are becoming more sophisticated about how a team can really be an asset. And what they try to do, I think, is, first of all, understand yourself, where your strengths and weaknesses are. Try to accompany that with people who you like, number one, and can work with, but are expert in that area that you most need help.

And then assemble a team based on those strengths and weaknesses. Listen to them. Defer to them at times on their expertise.

But in the end, make your own decision. And the reason for that is not necessarily to be an autocrat, but it's because on the golf course you're alone. And I think that's the difference in golf: any individual sport, where you're alone, it's important to still keep that autonomy of self more than other sports, I think.

I think on a football field, as much as those guys are great athletes and every play is a war, they're still very aware of what their assignment is and how they have to fit in with a team, and how they have to collaborate with their teammates.

A golfer doesn't have to do that. A golfer only has to do what's best for him in that moment. And that creates some, down the road, probably leadership issues because they're probably not as empathetic as maybe someone who's worked with a team. It's always interesting to me—Major League Baseball, so many of the great managers seem to have been second-string catchers. And why is that? Well, because they're working with the team all the time. They're observing everybody. They know everybody's assignment because they have to know the balls and strikes and positioning the outfielders, and all kinds of things. And they just study the game more outside of themselves.

And golfers just care about what they know and what they do. And they might be students of the game just out of love of the game. Ben Crenshaw's like that. And sometimes that's a distraction. I've talked to Ben about that. He goes, "I care too much about what other people are doing sometimes." So this is for selfishness. Now, having said all that, doesn't mean a person can't be a great leader who had been a professional golfer. And the PGA Tour is full of ex-professional golfers in their management system that have learned how to transfer their gifts to the group.

S1: 17:23             

Yeah. In fact, Jaime, if we may, I'd love to hear your thoughts on, for example, the PGA [Player] Advisory Council, which is the players. So it's a unique organization from a board of directors, an actual management team. You've got the players who are somewhat employees, although it's a very difficult compensation model. But the Advisory Council has intrigued me, getting the players more involved.

S2: 17:46             

Well, there's the commissioner and there's the board of directors. And so then the Player Advisory Council has a voice in that, but they have to, in the end, only give their recommendations. And the commissioner tries to follow the players' will as often as possible because it is a member organization. And he's there to keep the members—make them rich and make them happy as possible because they appoint him.

But the board is also extremely powerful, and they generally have businessmen and people with more sophistication about the bigger picture. But I think what you find is, when guys go on the advisory board, they take it very seriously and they bring a lot of ideas that are from the ground, from the grassroots tour plate. They know what players want, and they know what they as players most felt was lacking, for example, or what they were happy with that the PGA Tour did.

And the tour wasn't always that player friendly. Used to be that if you weren't in the top sixty money winners, you had to qualify every Monday to try and get in. And Monday qualifying now, it's not as important. Now, they call it four-spotting because that's all there are, four spots. Might be as many as eighty players four-spotting. You can imagine, you have to shoot 65 and sometimes that doesn't get in. But in the old days, it was Monday qualifying, and that was a very sort of itinerant kind of lifestyle. Driving to tournaments, and I'm talking about the '60s and '70s, were guys who were not stars. That was a rough road. And there was no pension—there were all kind of things—or a very minimal one. Now, we have the 125 exempt. That has changed the whole dynamic of the tour. By playing fairly well and being a journeyman, you have a very good living. There's an incredible pension. Part of the reason for that was the commissioner, Deane Beman, had been himself—I wouldn't call him a journeyman, but—

S1: 19:31             

A player?

S2: 19:31             

Yeah, he'd been a player, and a middling player. Very gifted small guy who didn't hit it far and had been a great amateur. And I think he won four tournaments, so he was a very credible player, but he was looking at it more from the journeyman perspective. And so when he became the commissioner, that was his emphasis: "That's who I'm going to take care of. The greater good. The majority of the players."

There's always been a tension between what the stars want and what the average player wants, the rank and file. The rank and file wants playing opportunities, and they want to get into as many tournaments as possible. Stars want, generally, high-profile events with limited fields where they can showcase their talents without having to necessarily beat as many players. They want to be on an exclusive stage as often as possible.

Obviously, the majors mean a lot to the stars as well, but they like the limited field events, the invitationals that have a big sponsor and a lot of money. The WGC, World Golf Championships, that's star-driven. We just saw the match play. That only had 64 players in it. They never have more than 120 players. So that's for the elite.

Whereas the journeyman would be very concerned with the, what they call, the opposite field event, but that's really the majority of your players. So that, I think, is where the tour's leadership has made, I think, a very nice balance. I mean, the stars are happy, everybody's gotten very rich, especially since Tiger came along. There's a lot of greed, and there's a lot of selfishness, and that's part of golf too. And that same selfishness that drives a player can make him financially selfish as well. And the saying on tour is, if you got a problem and you don't feel like you're being given enough advantages or enough opportunities, then play better. That's it. Two words, play better.

S1: 21:13             

Jaime, fantastic discussion. And I think you've highlighted, just brilliantly, this balance in leadership of empathy with autonomy of self, that idea of the human transaction and yet at the same time being self-sufficient. Well said and some great examples. Jaime, thank you so much for your time today.

S2: 21:32             

Oh, my pleasure, Phil. Thank you very much for asking me.

S1: 21:37             

[music] This podcast is brought to you by BRG. You can find episodes wherever you get your podcasts, or on our website, thinkbrg.com. And please, don't forget to give us a review on iTunes.

I'm Phil Rowley. Thanks for listening. The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the participants and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, position, or policy of BRG, its employees, or affiliates.

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