April 24, 2013

No doubt you’ve heard the controversy about Tiger Woods and the Masters. While some demanded he disqualify himself for violating a rule he should have known (but didn’t intentionally break), others remind us that had it not been for two key factors, he would have continued the tournament unscathed. A couple of at-home television viewers saw the violation and called the rules committee to report it. Then, Woods himself admitted the violation, without realizing he had made a mistake. He signed his scorecard and went on to deliver his media interviews, in which he said:

“So I went back to where I played it from, but I went two yards further back,” Woods said. “I tried to take two yards off the shot of what I felt I hit,” Woods said. “And that should land me short of the flag and not have it either hit the flag or skip over the back.”

And there it was. The moment of candor about his approach to the game that became the proverbial nail-in-the-coffin. He, unknowingly, admitted to committing the exact rules violation the TV viewers called in about. This, in turn, forced the rules committee to re-evaluate and consequently assess a 2-stroke penalty on Woods. Yet Woods continued with openness and honesty, demonstrating further candor:

“I wasn’t even really thinking,” Woods said. “I was still a little ticked at what happened, and I was just trying to figure out, ‘OK, I need to take some yardage off this shot,’… and evidently it was pretty obvious, I didn’t drop in the right spot.”

“Tiger was very forthright in his comments and his answers to questions that we had,” Fred Ridley, the Masters competition committee chairman said in a press conference Saturday morning. “I told Tiger that in light of that information…he was going to have to be penalized.”

Does Tiger regret his original off-the-cuff candid remark that, in the end, led to a two-stroke penalty? Maybe so. But, is it possible that his candor had greater, positive impact for his fellow golfers and for the institution of golf? His candor gave other competitors a legitimate shot at the title. Perhaps we (and Tiger) can see it this way – his candor preserved the integrity of golf by ensuring that rules are followed and players are held accountable for their honesty.

In his third notable moment of candor, following his penalty, he tweeted:

“At hole #15, I took a drop that I thought was correct and in accordance with the rules. I was unaware at that time I had violated any rules…I was assessed a two-shot penalty. I understand and accept the penalty and respect the Committee’s decision.”

Candor might not feel good in that exact moment. However, as leaders (on the golf course or in the boardroom) it is this type of candor that allows the organization to be wholly more successful than its parts. I’m not suggesting we throw ourselves under the bus. I am saying that we have to foster environments where honesty is such habit, so welcomed, that the notion of hiding our individual shortcomings or mistakes isn’t even considered.

P/S – Regarding the potential disqualification or withdrawal: “Under the Rules of Golf, I can play,” said Woods. So, rules are rules – including the ones that hold us accountable for our mistakes and the ones that work in our favor.