Tiger, Tiger, Burning Trust

In case you haven’t heard, the world’s best and most famous golfer has got himself into a bit of a mess.

A sex scandal? To be sure. A public relations debacle? You betcha. But what does it tell us about trust?

The Longer You Wait…

It started back on November 27; that’s 23 days before I’m writing this. That’s a long time in scandal-years to go without comment by the protagonist.

It was December 14, two weeks and change into the story, that Accenture dropped Tiger. That too was a long time, but Accenture was by far the earliest and most definitive of his endorsements to drop him. On the day Accenture dropped him, Nike and Pepsi conspicuously announced their continued endorsement. (Tag Heuer, part of LVMH, hedged its bets, later dropping him).

Woods has been visibly silent to date. Now, he is being given public advice by none other than Snoop Dogg.

Tiger didn’t lack public relations advice from the public. The NY Times on November 28 quoted Mike Paul, founder of MGP Associates, a PR firm:

“My advice to Tiger is pretty simple,” Paul said. “Own it, say it yourself, say it yourself with full conviction and responsibility and get it out of the way.

“You have an opportunity to change rumor and innuendo into truth. Moving past fear and doubt — that’s something they did not do well during the first 24 hours.”

Even a Saturday Night Live parody isn’t the height of bad PR. Yesterday’s NYTimes op-ed by Frank Rich now positions Woods as the poster child for a generation of liars and posers. Heavy stuff.

Predictions are risky, of course, but we probably all agree that Tiger’s delay makes it more difficult, not less, for him to stage a comeback in the court of PR.

The PR Perspective: Tiger Just the Latest to Be Taught the Watergate Lesson

Maybe Tiger was listening to his lawyers. In such cases, criminal defense attorneys often warn their clients not to say anything. Hindsight is 20-20, but it seems that Tiger’s legal issues were nothing compared to his PR issues.

You would think that if the world learned nothing from Watergate, it was that the cover-up is always worse than the crime. And yet, consider the list of public figures that continue to figure they can outrun the capacity for the truth to embarrass them. John Edwards, Bill Clinton, John Ensign, Jim McGreevey, Kobe Bryant, Eliot Spitzer, Bernie Kerik, Newt Gingrich, Jimmy Swaggart, Gary Hart, Larry Craig, Mark Foley, David Letterman, Ted Haggard, Mark Sanford. And on, and on.

From a PR perspective, the answer is clear. Get the truth out, fast. It’s what I teach as Name It and Claim It. It is first and foremost an acknowledgement of reality. It may, or may not, then lead to an apology. Job 1 is stop pretending you’re in charge of reality—get the truth out, because if you don’t, it will most definitely out you.

What Scandals Tell Us About Trust

At the heart of trust is one’s relationship to the Truth. The Trust Equation consists of credibility, reliability, intimacy and self-orientation. If someone ranks high on the first three and low on the last, we consider them trustworthy. And if someone lies, it calls all four into question.

He who lies is, by definition, not credible. If he lied in a calculated, ongoing way, we have to question his motives—which suggests very high self-orientation. If he lies in a careful, calculated, painstaking manner, then we question his intimacy—we can’t trust what he says even in confidential, seemingly intimate, moments. And if he carefully lies from selfish motives, we certainly don’t find him reliable.

This is damning stuff. But what troubles us most is the implied sense of arrogance. The implication is that the liar believes we are stupid enough to be played for saps. And the longer the delay in telling the truth, the more the continued arrogance. It suggests the liar still believes he can spin us.

Consider Spitzer—damned for his hypocrisy as a do-gooder, then caught. By contrast, his successor Governor Patterson, on his 2nd day, called a press conference to pre-emptively confess all sorts of drug use and sexcapades by himself and his wife. Yawn, said the press.

But it’s more than just truth-telling. We want the hypocrisy dealt with as well. Letterman owned up immediately, but he also apologized. Interestingly, Patterson confessed quickly, but didn’t apologize. Both are in the American tradition. We’re not as Puritanical as Europeans make us out to be; we are a tolerant nation when it comes to all sorts of activities. But what we don’t want is someone who lies about his motives. It’s OK for Barney Frank to be gay; it’s not OK for Larry Craig to torturously insist he isn’t.

What Tiger Can Do

If Tiger were single, it’d be easier for him. What he can’t do, however, is to continue being hypocritical by pretending to be the marrying kind (unless he undergoes some massive conversion). Nor can he continue to pretend he’s in charge of the Truth by insisting on some right to privacy. He gave that up when he received endorsements.

There is one party that came out of this well, I think, and that is Accenture. Tiger’s rectitude was more important to them than to Nike, given their respective businesses. Accenture took decisive action, which is what values-based companies do.

Their silence about their decision, unlike Tiger’s, I take to be principled: preaching ethics in an ethics scandal just highlights your own form of arrogance. Best to be silent and let others formulate their own opinions.

What’s yours?

3 replies
  1. Shaula
    Shaula says:

    > But what does it tell us about trust?

    I haven’t followed this story at all.  I don’t care about Tiger Woods’ pecadillos, or the indescretions of any other public figure.  I don’t envy them the fish bowls they live in.

    It occurs to me that if we want our heros to live up to certain moral standards, we’d be wise to select and elevate them on the basis of their moral performance in the first place, rather than their ability to hit a ball with a stick or wiggle body parts on a stage.

    I seem to be in the minority on both these points.

    But, all this tells us something else about trust as well.

    The state of Tiger’s marriage has nothing to do with his ability to play golf.  But he’s still taking heat over it. It’s affecting his public image, his ability to earn money through endorsements, etc.

    In the same way, when someone is hired by a client to do a job, most of us naively think we will be evaluated based on our performance in the job for which we were hired.

    But how much the client trusts us, how much the client’s trust level enables or obstructs us in our task at hand, and how the client perceives our value through a lens of personal bias, all of these things are strongly informed by the irrational irrelevancies that people seize upon: our race, gender, assumed sexual orientation, physical appearance; the presence or absense of religious symbols; the jokes we tell; the food we eat; the language we use; etc..

    Don’t underestimate the power of the irrational and irrelevant.

  2. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    First to Shauna: wonderful observation. IMHO, that’s why there’s no such thing as compartmentalization in any form – thought, word or deed.


    Now, to Tiger:


    When we’re long gone, our consciousness resting and musing from a pinnacle thousands of miles outside the Earth, reflecting and knowing our self from a different level of consciousness, it will all make sense.


    The media are tripping over themselves to cover and capitalize on the Tiger Woods story, focusing on the titillating, the gossiping, the business repercussions for Tiger, Inc. and his sponsors, how his actions will affect golf, and for the latest and greatest Tiger jokes.


    Here’s a different take.


    Tiger is but one of many who’ve achieved success and fame and are/were still left "wanting" – folks in politics, business, sports, education, religion, the arts and entertainment for whom fame represented a defective, lacking, broken brass ring. Fame did not provide them with a sense of groundedness, a deep sense of self, a "center that holds", a core sense of wholeness and self-love. Rather, amid the glamour, glitz and groupies, some part of them was feeling alone, lonely, loveless or lacking – suffering, desperate. And to ease their pain, they act out in inappropriate, self-sabotaging ways – infidelity, crime, abuse, addiction, and other seeming "rational" (at the time) acts of stupidity– in an effort to fill a "void" that fame could not. Laughing on the outside, not so much on the inside.


    This type of experience is characteristic of the spiritual journey. It’s characteristic of the way our soul tugs on our sleeve – NOT by praying and chanting mantras all day, meditating on the top of a mountain, reading spiritual material, or attending workshops, etc. – but by passing through the belly of the beast, experiencing the dark night of the soul, being transformed through challenge and hardship – the way a horseshoe can only be shaped by the intensity of the fire and flame of the blacksmith.


    At this point in time in their soul’s growth no amount of fame, or fortune, can ever suffice. Their progressive, deep desire for fame is largely in direct proportion to the "hole" or emptiness they experience and want to fill. But you can’t get milk from Home Depot.


    Never having taken the time to explore what’s underneath their need for fame, for crowds, for adulation and acceptance, (love in all the wrong places?) they tend to shy away from their "demons" – seeking escape or fulfillment outside themselves.


    Why isn’t fame enough? Why doesn’t fame "do it?" 


    Their search for success and fame (and true and real inner peace) is misplaced. Their search for acceptance, approval and love is misguided. Their heart’s longing for a sense of their "self" is veiled by their not knowing who they are. So, looking outside their self, they seek something they believe they do not have now.


    Our psychological condition – what we think, our attitudes and feelings about "who I am" and about what is happening in my life, the childhood experiences and conditioning we have had that we have not explored or addressed, and the shadow side of our self that we have avoided – are factors that affect how we deal with life, with success, with fame.


    We cannot rise higher than our thought (often unconscious, but thought, nevertheless) about who we are – regardless of the amount of our paycheck, the size of our adoring crowds, the number of hangers-on, lovers, World Series rings, number-one recordings, Oscars, Emmys or glittering marquis pulsing our name.


    The Tigers of the world feel separate, sense a lack of True and Real love or a harmonious alignment between their personality and their soul within. In this place, healthy and conscious life choices and decisions are often elusive and hard to make. This is their spiritual challenge…and opportunity, if they choose.


    Successfully meeting one’s challenges requires a deeper, soul-based, approach that supports one to go within to explore, inquire and gain a greater sense and understanding of their self – "Who am I, really?"


    For the Tigers of the world, for whom fame, fortune and success "don’t do it," their missteps are an the opportunity to "work" on issues that seek resolution, for example:


    ·         Learning something necessary for our further unfoldment of our person – a natural evolutionary experience that supports us in overcoming some limitation(s) imposed on ourself by ignorance, by withdrawal from social connection or by not expressing ourself on a deeper level

    ·         Healing relationships where disconnection and disharmony exist

    ·         Restoring order where disorder, or chaos exist in some way, shape or form

    ·         Restoring virtue where vice exists

    ·         Bringing thought into alignment with our heart and soul

    ·         Aligning our consciousness, understanding and behavior with universal laws

    ·         Awakening our conscience in order to make moral choices

    ·         Making connection with the Universe and trusting in its intelligence and love


    When the hubbub dies down, and we experience some quiet time before the next personality falls from grace and captures our attention, perhaps we can step back, take some deep breaths and inquire within, "Do I spend much of my life in a ‘wanting’ state? If so, what am I wanting? And, why? And what makes me think that someone or something outside myself will fulfill that wanting when I know, honestly and sincerely, that will never happen?"


    It’s easy for us to suggest that others tell the truth, tell others to bite the bullet and "just do the right thing." It’s easy to judge others. So, what about truth-telling, about me?


    Perhaps spending some time face-to-face, knee-to-knee, eye-to-eye with our spouse/partner, child, parent, client, customer, friend, colleague and saying, "In some way I’ve done you wrong and I want to do the right thing right here and right now and tell you the truth" might be a way we can take our focus off the Tigers and place it where it really belongs…on me.  Hmmm, maybe not so easy when it’s about me!


    Like it or not, believe it or not, everyone is on their spiritual journey. Being in denial or choosing to focus on the Tigers doesn’t make it any less so. As I referred to the words of Ram and Krishna recently in the post about collaboration, "…we live life over and over, the same life, infinitely until we get it." Painfully, perhaps, Tiger may get it now – in this lifetime – the price of spiritual and emotional maturation that arises from "pain understood." The deeper question in our respective lives is, "Will I get it?" Or, am I just looking for the next "star" to fall — keeping mum, myself?

  3. Renee
    Renee says:

    Charlie insisted that I post this, reluctant blogger that I am- – rather than fill his e-mail box, I suppose. 


    For starters, I’m disturbed that many seem to think that Tiger owes us something… hmmmmm.  He owes you as much as you owe him, nothing!  You don’t have to trust Tiger in order to live your life, enjoy golf, stay married or faithful.


    Accenture wants you to believe they are as trustworthy as Tiger so they can sell you services.  Tiger and Accenture are in a relationship.  Not Tiger and you!   Therefore, there is no trust to be gained, betrayed or maintained between you and Tiger.  It is all illusion!!!!  Of course, the illusion works and it’s the oil of a massive marketing industry – but it is marketing, not, what I call "the thing, itself." 


    So, I say, we need to get our heads screwed back on (in oh so many ways) and stop the salacious car wreck watching, thinking somehow we’ve been wronged.  It’s just crazy!!!!  


    Again, for starters, I recommend Chris Hedge’s article on celebrity available on Truthdig.com. 



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