Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Prodigy's Mid-Life Crisis: The Tiger Effect Re-Visited

Imagine growing up as a child prodigy where everyone “Oohs and awes” around you? Then, unlike many child prodigies, you grow up and become one as an adult. Through your eyes you look out into the world and what do you see? Lesser mortals? Fawning adults? Beautiful women falling all over you? Fearful competitors? The next mountain to climb? I can do it better?

Whatever you see, that’s what you believe whether it’s true or not. Then, you shape and conduct your life accordingly. While “can-do” optimism in principle is good, it can be downright dangerous if you have not walked over hot coals like most mere mortals along the way. With the ability to recognize red flags underdeveloped and a big well of confidence over-riding danger zones, you risk falling into traps.

And into a trap Tiger Woods fell. Somewhere along the line, Tiger made certain decisions that have come back to haunt him. He has no roadmap for dealing with significant personal failure. Failure has never been an option as he has until his fateful middle of the night car accident controlled the avoidance of it superbly. But, this time, with his father who was his guidepost gone, Tiger lost his bearings. Opportunity to repair the damage lurks but it’s going to be Tiger’s most difficult “tournament”.

We have seen this often in business: Martha Stewart, Conrad Black, the Enron, Eatons and Nortel folks, the 2008 financial melt-down and so on. Adult-onset prodigy development can be more dangerous than in childhood. Especially if wealth and power are added to the mix.

We mere mortals are subject to this too. Our judgment can become skewed if we are not on the alert to challenge our assumptions, debate and discuss them with others and send out some trial balloons. That’s the value of real team work in this all too complex society in which we live.

Much has been written about the challenge of good judgment and strategic decision-making of late. For example, Michael Roberto in Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer asserts that “differences in mental horsepower seldom distinguish success from failure” in smart decision-making amidst complexity. Adding to the “why” of this conundrum, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton in Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense conclude that managers routinely ignore or reject solid evidence” that “damage careers and companies over and over again”. Our brains, that is, our minds, are both friends and foes.

Where was Tiger’s team? Who challenged his judgment? Some likely did. It appears from the current fall-out that Tiger paid little heed. Child prodigies are according to the literature “extreme specialists” who are finely attuned to a particular field of knowledge and who demonstrate “effortless mastery”. The caveat is that such mastery is not demonstrated “across the board”. Aye, here’s the rub for Tiger. What a shock for him and his entire ecosystem.

This is a character challenge for Tiger and for those who support him. Character, according to Manfred Kets de Vries in The Leader on the Couch, is the “sum of deeply ingrained patterns of behaviour that define an individual” from the Greek word meaning “engraving”. How will Tiger re-engrave all that goes into shaping his behaviour? What behaviours (driven by values) will his supporters from the “Tiger they knew before the downfall” use to either help Tiger or set him loose to fend for himself?

The way ahead like so much of life these days is not clear. In the months ahead, we will either be inspired or dismayed by Tiger’s and others’ actions.

As the Accenture ad featuring Tiger intoned, “It’s what you do next that counts”.


Michael Roberto said...

Thanks for the mention of my book: Why Great Leaders Don't Take Yes For An Answer!

Anonymous said...

My friend and I were recently talking about how involved with technology our daily lives have become. Reading this post makes me think back to that debate we had, and just how inseparable from electronics we have all become.

I don't mean this in a bad way, of course! Societal concerns aside... I just hope that as memory gets cheaper, the possibility of uploading our brains onto a digital medium becomes a true reality. It's one of the things I really wish I could encounter in my lifetime.

(Posted on Nintendo DS running [url=http://cryst4lxbands.sosblog.com/-b/Will-the-R4-or-R4i-work-b1-p2.htm]R4 Card[/url] DS Ting2)

Anonymous said...

Superb post! I wish i had the writing abilities you had. Anyway, thanks for Iyour hard work, please maintain it up.