A Tiger’s Only Human, After All…

Concerning the recent news about Tiger Woods and the trouble he is having these days, what’s the news that no one is talking about?  That Tiger had an affair (or two or ten… or fourteen)?  That his wife is considering sending him packing?  That his sponsors are dumping him?  That we’re all so horribly disappointed that the poster child for (enter your favorite identity politics category here) let us down?  No… they all miss the point. The miss the point by a mile.

The big shocker is… that we’re shocked at all.

A Google search reveals over twenty thousand hits for “Tiger Woods affair“, and only six for “Tiger Woods ‘Why are we surprised‘”.

Real Questions

What makes Tiger different than any one of us?  His unimpeachable moral character? His storybook biracial upbringing?  His “buy our toothpaste” smile?  His killer pecks that any self-respecting guy would die for?  No.  What makes Tiger different is that he’s an unbelievable golfer.  That’s it.  He hits the little white ball a freakin’ mile… and arguably more accurately and consistently that anyone ever has in the history of the game.

Now, allow me to assert a theory here that you are free to blast to smithereens (yes, it’s a real word that some of you younguns may need to look up).


To prevent ourselves from having to face our own demons, we ascribe near perfection (and in the case of certain US presidents, perfection itself) to people whom we don’t want to fail us.  We categorically refuse to learn the lesson that history has been teaching us for millennia.

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men (with a shout out to Lord Acton for documenting the obvious).

Why did we ever think Tiger was any less capable of abominable behavior that you or me?  He was raised with the same kind of defective parents, in the same defective culture, and hung out with the same kind of defective friends as the rest of us.  I sometimes wonder who is the more delusional…  the ones who get caught, or the rest of us who wonder why they got caught.  Folks, we are all capable of the worst we see in others.  You, me, all of us.  The difference is a) whether we get caught, and b) the consequences once we do get caught.

The Leadership Connection

If my theory is true (and in the case of my own moral condition, it certainly is), then one of the hallmarks of a genuine, trustworthy leader is that they are voluntarily surrounded by enough personal and organizational checks and balances to sink a ship.  If not, then run for the hills, ‘cause their house of cards is going to fall down – it’s only a matter of when and where.  A trustworthy leader is one who acknowledges the blackness of his own heart, and safeguards himself and his organization (and his family, and himself) against it.  It’s someone who tries hard to catch herself doing little things wrong so she won’t wake up one morning reading the headlines about the big one.

It’s someone who sees accountability as an asset not an obstacle; sees criticism as a blessing not a curse; and sees morality as the cornerstone of organizational survival.

What say you?  Do you see any examples of a shaky house of leadership cards lately?  Any examples of trustworthy leader that surfaces their failures quickly and publicly?  I would love to have you comment.

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R. Ian Davis is President / CEO of
Davis & Company: Human Capital Strategists,
Executive Coach and Leadership Consultant with various leading consultancies such as Lee Hecht Harrison, CLG, and others,
Lecturer in matters of Human Capital Strategy with prominent universities including Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, and
Member of the Linked2Leadership Executive Council.  Ian can be reached at ian@workforcecustomization.com.
Image Sources: reuters.com, wfan.com, golf.com, decoder.drugfree.org

6 responses to “A Tiger’s Only Human, After All…

  1. There is no Leadership Connection.

    First, Tiger was not considered to have a higher moral standard, at least not with adult conversations I frequent. If any person envision a perfect stranger with super moral powers it’s a sad commentary on the individual.

    Tiger hit’s a golf ball and pitches commercials. When did he become a leader of society’s morals? You guys speak like you knew Tiger, like “He was one of us.” Hitching a agenda to another person is the kid waiting on Santa. Nevertheless, some adults want their fairy-tales to be true.

    Your theory requires a critical review. Tiger was never a trustworthy leader. First we need a definition of trust. Famous athletes are not synonymous with trust by my definition. To use Tiger in introducing your theory lends itself to self-indulgence.

    I would also ask what is your definition of leadership? I am positive it does not include the actions of a person. Surely, we have come to an understanding that a leader and leadership are not synonymous.

    You mentioned, “A trustworthy leader is one who acknowledges the blackness of his own heart.” What does that mean? The blackness of his/her heart. I am startled by your theory.

    Your theory that a leader must have protection from himself indicates a lack of self-awareness and self-control. It’s not enough to have artificial barriers keeping oneself from self-destructing.

    What if the person’s a pilot? A surgeon?

    How do one impact life while concerns with satisfying compulsions? I believe your theory’s framework of utilizing fame as a attribute is poorly structured.

    Also, your theory’s allowance of permitting a person of questionable character also has been found inadequate.

    Tiger’s has done a great service for the discussion of leadership. Although he has nothing to do with the process, nevertheless, individuals who believe they know its definition may now be challenged.

    • Robert,
      I applaud you for having the foresight to see the Tiger is no more human than the result of us.

      Rather than concur with those perspectives we share, and rebut those we don’t, let me just try to clarify what I was (and wasn’t) saying… and let me apologize in advance for any poor communication on my part.

      My first point is precisely the one for which you so vehemently criticize me… that we are no better that Tiger … and he is no better than us. We all have the capacity for abominable moral conduct. He just got caught… at a time when he was the most prominent athlete on the planet.

      My “theory”… as unscientific as it is… simply says that, if we are all capable of moral and ethical transgressions, we can have more trust in those leaders that recognize their capacity for such conduct, and surround themselves with checks and balances to prevent it.

      My connection to leadership is not that Tiger is a leader in an organizational sense (although he clearly is… just ask the marketing departments of Accenture, Nike, Tag Heuer, Golf Digest, his foundations, etc. – not to mention his wife and child), but that when you’re “at the top” of anything, especially organizations of any type, there should be checks and balances.

      Self-imposed checks and balances give comfort (to me, at least) that the leader is not naive enough to think they’re incapable of failing themselves and their team.

      One last thought… to your questions of “blackness of heart” and “self-awareness/self-control”. If a man does not know his capacity for evil, he will surely see it played out in his life. I don’t need an empirical study to be convinced of this. If, however, he is sufficiently self-aware to see his “dark side” and guard against it without be compelled to, he gets my vote as a trustworthy leader.

      All-in-all Robert, I thank you for your contribution to the discussion.
      Merry Christmas!

      • I believe your definition of leadership will forward this conversation intelligently. I asked if you would provide it for me in my first response. Nevertheless, leader and leadership are not synonynomus. The article basis rest on that misconception.

        I think it’s important that we stop deifning leadership as some “potluck” phenomenon. Only with burial of the unlimited mythical explantations can we realize our confusion.

        Hopefully we’ll continue to clear the muddy waters surrounding leadership as a person, traits or influence.

        “Leadership is a process of mutual influences which exists inside a group of individuals who are purposely-driven to intend real changes from current circumstances.”

        I also wish you happy holidays.

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  3. Excellent read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on that. And he actually bought me lunch because I found it for him smile So let me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!

    • Quincy,
      Thank you for your encouraging comments… I hope you had a wonderful lunch… and (more importantly) helped to grow a great friendship with your colleague.

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