While I've tried hard to not be part of the peanut gallery throwing advice Tiger's way, I like the guy too much not to take advantage of my pulpit to offer a few thoughts. On the golf course, Tiger has proven time and time again that one should not count him out when things look bleak. He's curved shots around trees, hacked out of knee-high rough, and made more up-and-down saves than possibly any other golfer in history. But golf is a game in which you can control the moment, whereas what he's gotten himself into on the personal side is not something that can be fixed in the moment.
But I believe that there is a chance for him to reset and rebuild. It won't happen overnight, but I bet it can happen faster than most think. Here's a five-part plan for Tiger to consider:
- Come out of hiding. Tiger needs to lose the scripted media statements and come out and talk to the public directly. This might be a Barbara Walters interview, Oprah, or a media tour. He needs to do this immediately; too much time has already passed. Waiting just exacerbates the frustration and disapproval of fans and colleagues. Though this is a private matter, his public persona and the extraordinary sums of money he has been paid give him a responsibility to the game of golf itself.
- Demonstrate sincere remorse. I have no idea how Tiger is really feeling or what drove him to his infidelity, but he's going to have to give an apology that people believe. If I were a defense lawyer and if he were on a trial, I'd coach him to reiterate his shame and apology to his family, which better come across as damn shameful without excuses. He has to show that he means it.
- Embrace vulnerability. What makes Tiger a great player is his unwavering mental toughness and concentration. While I have always admired this machine-like prowess, it has made him a less approachable person. The public has accepted this, understanding that it is what keeps him winning. But family values and integrity are basic assumptions, which is why many contracts with "personalities" have "moral turpitude" clauses. This is a time to show vulnerability, humanize himself and let his guard down, and dissipate the schadenfreude - the German expression popularized when Martha Stewart was convicted that means to take pleasure in someone else's misfortune. There are two types of superstar personalities: those at high risk of schadenfreude and those at low risk of schadenfreude. Guess which one Tiger is.
- Play golf and play well. Tiger has to get back on the course and remind people why they loved him in the first place - for his extraordinary god-gifted golfing talents. As he hopefully wins again, he'll have to do so in a different more quiet style, at least for the near term. Ironically, if he shows and admits his vulnerability, he may enjoy playing the game even more and whether winning or losing, he can start to rebuild a modicum of respect
- Expand or refocus non-profit and community service endeavors. Tiger needs to commit to the fact that change is possible. By committing to change he can also commit to helping others who are victims of related fates. For example, helping kids from broken families gain support and confidence. If I were in Tiger's shoes, I'd make a public statement about committing to give some large amount of my future earnings towards this cause.
Why might this work? Because we like our heroes and are willing to put aside their faults. I'll take a contrarian stance and say that if he follows a plan focused on reconnecting to the public in a way neither he nor they are used to, he'll make a comeback sooner than people will think. It'll be tough for him to stomach the near-term humiliation, but the chance of a reset is a prize bigger than winning a Major right now.
This article first appeared on Harvard Business Publishing on January 6, 2010.