Tiger's Tales

Tiger Woods is no stranger to the cover of Sports Illustrated, but his 20th and latest cover story -- this week's "What Happened?" -- is a case study on Integrity and its impact on success in performance as well as life.  Say the words "Tiger Woods" and "Integrity" and the all-too obvious connection takes shape: that of serial adultery and marital dishonesty.

But looking at this one side of Integrity -- that of moral integrity -- through the prism of Tiger Woods is easy, expected, and not very educational. Marital infidelity has been around as long as marriage itself, and there's nothing insightful or unique about Woods' version of the practice, our culture's gluttonous obsession over its lurid details notwithstanding.

There is another side to Integrity that emerges from Alan Shipnuck's cover story -- a theme that runs through Woods' journey from kindergartener to golf phenom to historic superstar to shameful lothario to likely has-been: a debilitating lack of what author Ronald J. Greer calls personal integrity:

Personal integrity is when we are authentically the persons we were created to be. It means living a life of wholeness and congruence. ... It's more than telling the truth -- it's being true to who I am. To be a person of integrity is to strive to be true to the person I was created to be. It is to strive to be that person consistently across the whole of my life.

Of course, one can't be true to who one is supposed to be until two things are true. As Greer outlines them:
  1. Self-Identity -- discovering the truth about who one is and supposed to be;
  2. Self-Esteem -- properly valuing the reality of #1.
Shipnuck's portrait of Woods has all the signs of a life of someone never comfortable enough with who he was to be that person consistently across the boundaries of his life. Some examples from the SI story:
  • In a 1997 interview with Barbara Walters, Woods claimed to have his own sense of racial self-identity forever shaped when, on his first day of kindergarten, he was tied up to a tree, hit with rocks, and had a racial epithet spray painted on his chest. It turned out this incident never happened.
  • For several years in the mid-2000's, Woods seemed obsessed with living a life other than his own -- that of a Navy SEAL. In addition to actually training with special ops forces at Fort Bragg, Woods devoted hours to watching SEAL training DVD's and playing special ops video games. To his swing coach Hank Haney, this excessive escapism seemed to indicate that Tiger "was just tired of being Tiger Woods."
  • To people who knew Woods as a teenager, he was "just a golf nerd" who was "a little nerdy," fascinated with nerdy things, and "seemed to gravitate toward a certain type" of person -- nerds. Writes Shipnuck: "In this context Woods's serial infidelity can be seen as a kind of a high school geek's wish fulfillment" not unlike Patrick Dempsey's Ronald Miller in Can't Buy Me Love.
  • Even the supreme recklessness of Woods's affairs seemed to signal a crisis of identity, says Haney:

"If he's trapped in a life he doesn't want, the only way the whole thing can end is if he self-destructs. You have to draw the conclusion that in some way Tiger wanted to be caught."

  • "Nobody has shown up at a tournament more in character than Tiger Woods," says [Paul] Azinger. "He was as much an actor as an athlete. He showed up on Sunday in a shirt the color of blood. After all the problems in his life, what character could he possibly play?"
  • As for the effects his public scandal had on Tiger's singular dominance over the golfing world?

There is the pervasive belief that in the wake of the scandal Woods's peers were less intimidated, hastening his demise. [Padraig] Harrington believes an inward gaze was more damaging: "He had an invincible air, and then suddenly he had frailties. But it's not what we thought about the frailties that mattered, it is what he thought. Up to that point, he was the most self-confident person I'd ever come across. Invincible, in a sense. I might have kept believing that except it became quite clear that Tiger himself no longer did."

For leaders, Tiger Woods's fall should serve as a clarion call for a deeper understanding of and commitment to both moral and personal integrity. Even the most gifted and successful performer in history can be felled by the uneven imbalance of a life live without integrity. Being honest to others (moral integrity) is necessary, for sure, but completely insufficient to lead oneself and others successfully. Being honest with yourself (personal integrity) isn't a psychological "nice to have;" it is an absolute requirement for a life well lived.

Who are you?
  • not who you are expected to be ...
  • not who you are when it's "just business" ...
  • not who you wish you could be ...
  • not who your family thinks you are ...
  • not who you know you should be ...
Answering this fundamental first principle question is the first step to everything else. As Ronald Greer puts it for the

If you know who you are, you will know what to do.

Lance Salyers currently serves as a corporate executive after a first career as a prosecuting attorney. He blogs about the fundamentals of people-focused leadership at his website: Leading With IDEAS.