The media, sports, business, ethics, and image pundits are all out now, pointing out what Tiger must do to revamp his shattered image. Meanwhile, we all ask the question: What do we learn from this?
Surprisingly, the business takeaway isn’t really about ruined images or the billion-dollar golf industry that Tiger almost single-handedly created and handed over to his fellow golfers. And there may be those who say that integrity counts both in real life and in business—few will doubt that. However, perhaps the greatest lesson is that arrogance and power come hand-in-hand—no matter how good a person may be. That’s why we’ve decided that as a society, we don’t need a benevolent dictator—or perhaps, more precisely, we cannot allow one because a single bad act can undo all the great things that are done.
Ken Blanchard has mentioned that there are only three ways that people can change: by experiencing a near-death experience, by finding a spiritual guide, or by having a strong role model.
I can make a safe guess that Tiger Woods will not have a spiritual awakening and I don’t think running into a fire hydrant with a SUV qualifies as a near-death experience. That leaves only one alternative.
But Tiger lost his father figure—arguably, his strong role model—just a few years ago, and his empire was already in place way before then. The word “empire” reminds us of another character that was tempted by the Dark Side of the Force. That was, of course, Luke Skywalker, but he had a dead guy and an 800-year old master guiding him. I don’t think Tiger had such spiritual role models. In fact, he only had temptations, with no one daring to challenge his masculinity, his supremacy, his absolute power, and his arrogance. It had less to do with marital infidelities than with seeing how far he can go without getting punished, much like a two-year old will test his parents who tell him, “Don’t you dare open the refrigerator!” (Remember Kramer v. Kramer?)
There really was no choice for Tiger. We’ve known for too long that absolute power corrupts absolutely. The minute he attained the illusion that he had absolute power, he was history.
It is little wonder, then, that we have corporate executives who also never seem to learn.
In their tiny worlds, the title “CEO” gives them the illusion of absolute power and it is this illusion that makes them do the Tiger Woods’ equivalent—empty the company’s coffers or lie about bad results or buy $30,000 toilets. They cheated on all their stakeholders.
I love the game of golf and I’m actually a big fan of Tiger’s. He’s disappointed a lot of us, but I hope that the biggest disappointment was Tiger’s for himself.
I hope he finds his Yoda. Someone who will tell him to “Unlearn what you have learned,” or that “Size matters not.” He’ll either come back to become the greatest, or we’ll find out that he was Mike Tyson. I don’t think there’ll be an in-between.
But back to the world of corporate executives. I don’t see any Yoda’s in the corporate board rooms. The SEC, PCAOB, Congress, the corporate directors, and the auditors have by and large let the Palpatines (that’s the bad Emperor in Star Wars) do whatever they choose. Self interest continues to be the guiding principle and the best predictor of human behavior.
And if we remind ourselves of Ken Blanchard’s words, it is highly unlikely that arrogant CEO’s will discover god and I don’t wish upon them near death experiences either.
I miss Yoda.
Joseph Lee is an adjunct professor at the Graziadio School of Business and Management and Peter Drucker & Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management, where he teaches a course on management consulting. Read his blog at joe-lee.com/blog.html
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