Leadership at the highest level

Features - Operations

Leasha Schwab describes the enduring lessons she learned from Bellerive Country Club’s Carlos Arraya while volunteering at the PGA Championship.

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December 4, 2018

Schwab

I always enjoy looking back on past events that, at the time, you didn’t know were going to have a hand in changing your life. The joy in knowing any little moment could be one of those life-changing moments can really give you a different view on each day.

The first time I met Bellerive Country Club director of grounds and agronomy Carlos Arraya he was doing a talk at GIS on people and culture with Grant Murphy from The National Golf Club of Canada. Grant is one of my most valued mentors and I had to go watch and support his seminar. Plus, who doesn’t need to know more about people and culture?

I was amazed. The seminar was inspiring, thoughtful and gave you tools to take home with you. I’m somebody who devours inspiration and I left that seminar just reeling with things to go back to my club and implement. I actually ordered their recommended books on Amazon while I was sitting in the seminar room. Books and podcasts have helped me improve who I am as a person and anything they were recommending had to be in my hands as soon as possible.

What did I take away from that day? Well, looking back on my first superintendent position at the young age of 20, I was impulsive, reactive and probably downright pushy at times. In my experience, I feel we lean toward these traits when we don’t really know how to be impactful as a leader. When we feel like we are losing control of our staff – and they seem unmotivated and uninspired – are the times we need to reflect on ourselves.

All too commonly we look the opposite way at them, wondering how they should change. Truthfully, I still struggle with this and it is a work in progress, as everything should be. Over the past couple years, more steadily in the past year, I’ve finally felt like I was becoming more insightful and constructive in my leadership. It stems from surrounding myself with people who encourage me to work on myself – and Carlos is at the forefront.

A week volunteering for the 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive has inspired me more than any book or podcast. Which is saying a lot! Read Brene Brown’s book “Braving the Wilderness” and you’ll understand where I’m coming from. It’s been one of those experiences that is so awakening you want to share it with the whole world but struggle to find any words that will do it justice. Well, I’m at least going to give it a shot here. When I think about the people at Bellerive, especially Carlos, these are some of the descriptions that come to mind:

  • Poised
  • Articulate
  • Compassionate
  • Authentic
  • Forgiving
  • Driven
  • Curious
  • Self-aware
  • Responsive
  • Daring
  • Influential
  • Connective
  • Inclusive
  • Humble

Carlos not only inspires people, he makes you want to be able to pass that inspiration along to the people in your own life. He wants each person on his staff to feel important, connected and wants others around you to get a chance to see your best qualities so we can all learn from each other.

As with many extraordinary people, it tends to be their journey in life that has awakened them to such perspective in life. Carlos is no exception. Losing his son two years ago, impacted his life more than most of us will ever be able to comprehend. It is amazing to witness somebody who has taken this life-altering event and still finds a way to help others. Carlos has embraced not only his team during his journey, but the world. He has allowed Isaih’s story to guide him and help him teach others perspective, love and compassion. I’ve never been in the presence of something more selfless and impactful.

Selfless. There’s another word.

I watched Carlos balance hosting a PGA Championship while putting every person working or volunteering first. When you are in his presence, you realize this is not an act. This is real. The morning chants, fist pumps, huge smiles and love for one another is not an act. Throughout his genuine openness and leadership, Carlos has drawn his whole team into his circle of influence and positivity, sharing with them the secrets of our amazing industry. He’s bridged the gap between professionalism and fun, between a leader and a friend, a mentor and an equal. Things most people struggle with he does with ease. He is unshakeable in his values.

I was lucky enough to be in the heart of these unshakeable values. I was sitting in Carlos’s office when we learned that an extremely critical, inaccurate article was posted online. I remember the instant, physical, angry reaction I immediately felt. Reading it was even worse. Everybody was talking, reading quotes, giving their opinion, until we realized Carlos really hadn’t said anything.

We all looked at him and he said, “Nobody do anything. Nobody react, comment, nothing. We know who we are, what we are about and what we will produce. That’s all that matters. What did we say team? We have a plan, we knew these things would happen. Stick to the plan.” I was floored and truly a bit embarrassed at my lack of emotional self-control.

This industry needs Carlos. We need to ask him questions, we need to learn his secrets. Gone are the days that lack diversity, balance and inspiration. This man knows the importance of life and he wants everybody he crosses paths with to learn how to find it, too.

He wants you to be rich with experiences, connected with family, proud of your work, excited about your life. He wants to help you showcase your strengths and will work to help you assess and approach your faults in a positive, constructive way. In the early mornings at Bellerive, when the stars were still out, I am surprised our cheering and energy didn’t wake all of St. Louis.

One line that stood out to me above everything was when Carlos was asked (in front of the entire grounds crew) if he has ever had people who worked for him not buy into his message or just not like him. This was his response, “Oh yeah! Definitely. But I choose to love them through it anyways every time.”

I’m pretty sure we can all take a lesson from that.

Leasha Schwab is the superintendent at Pheasant Run Golf Course in Sharon, Ontario.