September 1, 2020

Finding Air with the Long Tee

Photo by: Obi Onyeador via Unsplash

When new employees join the Comm School, they are asked to share a unique nonacademic quality about themselves. Mine is that I have pretty good muscle memory.

Having dependable muscle memory is a good thing for an occasional golfer like me. My swing is always there; the unknown is whether or not I take the correct steps to set myself up for success. When I play golf with my husband, Toby, he always reminds me as we walk to the first tee box to “tee the ball up high.”

If the ball is teed up too low to the ground, I will whiff it, and the ball will dribble off the tee and not go very far. There is nothing more embarrassing than whiffing on the first hole.

Yet, when I tee my ball up high, it is much more likely that I will make clean contact with the sweet spot of the club head and the ball will get incredible lift and thus travel farther.

There are two ways to increase the height of your tee. One is to not put the tee into the ground quite so deep. Which is actually not as easy as you might think because once you put the tee in the ground you have to reach down and fiddle with it to get the perfect height.

The second fix is to use a long tee.

When I tee the ball up on a long tee, I can take a swing and see the ball fly 225 yards, straight down the fairway, and possibly get it on the green. This is what I like to call finding air with the long tee.

Over the months of May and June, while I was preparing to take this role, I talked with over 100 people about McIntire, and I thought about how best to start this role in the midst of a global pandemic. I asked myself: How does one come in to a school as high performing as this one and build upon the good work that has been done over the last couple of decades? And what occurred to me is that—like my golf swing—which I can count on to be consistently powerful—there is no need to change what we do. We just need to examine how we do it. In the middle of all this chaos, to get a strategic foothold in terms of both the tasks at hand and the future before us, we need to put in a longer tee.

To me, the strategic agenda that the staff and faculty are crafting to govern our work over the next 12-18 months is our means of finding air with the long tee.

The focus is only on 12-18 months because the hope is that by next summer or fall, the tremendous uncertainty we are currently facing will have subsided and we can undertake a rigorous strategic planning process that includes all of the constituents across the McIntire community. We are setting McIntire up for future success by creating some margin and some separation for ourselves. We will not just check the box on this year because there are challenges—like many of our peers are doing. Rather, by taking steps to set the stage for success, we will take our perfect swing, and get abundant air…ambitious air…amazing air.

We will use the long tees to get air so that we are in the fairway and, with any luck, we will find ourselves on the green, ready to putt it out while others are still whiffing back at the tee box.

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