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Nancy Koehn

Nancy Koehn

Nancy F. Koehn is a historian at the Harvard Business School and author, most recently, of The Story of American Business: From the Pages of the New York Times.

A shirked responsibility

In response to this week's On Leadership question: Tiger Woods has reacted to recent revelations about his marital infidelity as a husband trying to protect his family and a celebrity trying to protect his "brand." Has he ignored his other de facto role as "CEO of Golf," and, if so, what response would that require?

We live in an age when the whole nine yards of leadership are being redefined. Not only what constitutes effective, worthy leadership but also who, in actual fact, wears this mantle. Titles, job descriptions, compensation numbers and reporting relationships are out. Right action, consistency, a palpable sense of stewardship and responsibility are in. These are the emerging signposts to real leadership and the higher road that all worthy leaders take their constituents on.

In this moment when so much is being creatively destroyed, it is important to consider some of the most powerful leaders on the global stage today. There are the usual suspects, of course, like the president of the United States or of China or the Pope. The individuals in these position exercise authority by virtue of their respective offices, as leaders traditionally have.

But increasingly, people from all walks and places are looking to other individuals for guidance and inspiration and examples to live by. To people like Oprah Winfrey and Bono of U2 women and men who--in the glare of the global spotlight--have earned their authority by virtue of what they have created. And then sustained that power by how they live their lives, day in and day out. Who seem, no matter how close we look, to be individuals who are not for sale.

Until last week, Tiger Woods was one of this very small circle of (new) global leaders. Initially, he attracted attention as a result of his extraordinary athletic achievements. But Woods quickly became more than one of the best golfers the world has seen. He became a beacon for grace under pressure, for the discipline and suppleness of serious pursuit, for consistent sportsmanship, and, perhaps most important, for the courage to follow one's dreams and to keep following them. Around the world, men, women and particularly teenagers have looked to Woods for inspiration and credible hope and a clean path on which to walk.

Woods may not have sought such authority or embraced it as actively as Winfrey and Bono have. But make no mistake about it, he has benefited tremendously from it, and he knows this well.

What is less clear he understands in the wake of the events of the past 10 days is that with such enormous power comes ongoing responsibility. Responsibility that cannot be shirked or stuffed in a drawer called protecting his "brand." And this responsibility means recognizing the effect his actions have on others--especially teenagers and others struggling to find a worthy path--and then using this power to explain the choices he has made--good and bad--to the people looking up to him. And to own up to his failings in this moment in a way that demonstrates he has learned from them.

Woods has long appeared to be a thoughtful man. As such, he has arrived at an important crossroads. Will he take up the responsibility he has as a role model for millions of people and use this moment to claim the higher ground of admitting one's mistakes and then making something good from what he has learned? Or will he squander his leadership capital, not to mention his own future comfort level with himself, by trying to ignore the power he has and the responsibility that attends this?

We are living in a time when many public figures--from financial executives pulling down record bonuses to politicians with all kinds of extramarital activity--have chosen not to take responsibility for their actions and the consequences of these actions on others. Given this stage, there is a lot riding on Woods's response.

By Nancy Koehn

 |  December 7, 2009; 4:22 PM ET
Category:  Making mistakes Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: 'Choice' of perfections | Next: Protecting Tiger, Inc.


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Best perspective yet on the worship of things that really do not matter...

"Man Who Used Stick To Roll Ball Into Hole In Ground Praised For His Courage!"


Posted by: munkle | December 9, 2009 1:55 AM
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Do the math.
Let's suppose that only three bimbos helped take the hitch out of Tiger's backswing. And, suppose that each of them had swapped body fluids with three rounders and so on. Its likely that Tiger exposed himself and his wife to at least several dozen people's diseases. So, there is almost a 100% chance that he brought home at least three and as many as ten diseases that are difficult to pronounce and impossible to spell.
It is so sad that news folk and commentators refer to additional sex meetings as "affairs." When in fact, Tiger and other rounders get and distribute sickness, disease and death.
Now you know "the rest of the story." I really miss Paul Harvey.

Posted by: hurleyvision | December 8, 2009 11:28 PM
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Oldtimerider wrote: "It is quite simple. Gentlemen: Keep it zipped! Ladies: Do the same."

Gosh thanks, oldtimer. Now that we know we should all be perfect in every way, we'll never have any problems ever again! It just goes to show that simple thinking from simple minds is what we need more of today.

Posted by: bigbrother1 | December 8, 2009 4:59 PM
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Nancy: with enormous power comes the responsibility to sleep with younger, hotter women. Tiger is simply fulfilling that obligation. Elin has been very well provided for, she's peaked physically, and Tiger has needs. Please give him the space he needs to maintain his A game and find something more challenging to write about.

Posted by: FordF-350 | December 8, 2009 4:42 PM
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What we think of Tiger Woods will not be determined by what he does or does not say, nor by what columnists or scholars do not say. It will be determined by what he meant to each of us before, and what he means now that he's just another philandering celebrity. What's done is done, was done by Tiger. For me, the most damning part was his pouty note about tabloids and the Press. He thought he was too special to go through this...

Posted by: jnardo | December 8, 2009 4:28 PM
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Tiger Woods was a jerk before he was exposed as a flagrant womanizer. He's still a jerk. Nothings changed.

Posted by: BLADE7718 | December 8, 2009 4:15 PM
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"I know this was my fault, but how much should it cost to make things right, do I have to pay for life?"

This is the opening line to the Boyz II Men song "Human II", a sequel if you will to "Human" by The Human League. In many ways, some of the commentaries across all media outlets seem to be wondering how much pain Tiger should be feeling for his infidelities and how long the pain should be felt. It's a hard lesson to learn sometimes, but actions have consequences, and some of those consequences do have life-long repayment terms. He's broken the trust of his wife, he's dminished his personal reputation, etc. I agree that he and his wife should be left alone to deal with this issue privately, but I disagree with all who say this is no big deal and that it doesn't affect me. It's hard to teach my young boys that they have responsibilities if society is always saying anything goes. We seem to be turning into a society that doesn't care about the consequences of anything at all and that is troubling to me.

Posted by: happydave1 | December 8, 2009 4:08 PM
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Nancy: with enormous power comes the responsibility to sleep with younger, hotter women. Tiger is simply fulfilling that obligation. Elin has been very well provided for, she's peaked physically, and Tiger has needs. Please give him the space he needs to maintain his A game and find something more challenging to write about.

Posted by: FordF-350 | December 8, 2009 3:57 PM
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A always though Woods was a golfer. He has no authority, and is leader of nothing. What kind of twisted mind does it take to equate celebrity with authority?

This is totally unsurprising. It is biological - males try to spread their genes, and females like to associate with celebrity males. But we insist that everyone adopt a thoroughly middle-class morality. It used to be that the wives of the rich and powerful accepted such behavior as long as it was discrete and created no threat to their social position or financial security. Many of them responded by having their own adventures (Winston Churchill's mother, for example.)

Woods and his wife need to get their personal arrangement straight. As for the rest of us, let's drop it.

Posted by: j2hess | December 8, 2009 3:45 PM
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This time in three years he'll own a casino on every continent and two in Vegas. Tiger Woods is strong, resilient brand.

Posted by: blasmaic | December 8, 2009 3:32 PM
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Why are people reading through all this dreck and burning any calories here? How absurd it all is.

Posted by: hunter_christopher | December 8, 2009 3:21 PM
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And everybody was thinking that Tiger is different.
He did find time away from the golf course to drum-up these side walks. Surprisingly one has to wonder why it took so long to discover Tiger's side trips.

Now there will be law suites coming that will keep him busy.

Posted by: 68b2b | December 8, 2009 3:01 PM
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He didn't want to be a leader. He wanted to play golf. He would play golf even if nobody was watching him. Would you keep writing judgmental columns if nobody read them?

Yes, I'm sure it's a disappointment to some people that Tiger Woods turns out not to be Jesus with a golf club, but that's reality. "Get used to disappointment."

This wouldn't be an issue at all if we'd stop clinging to the notion that all human beings are monogamous. It's a ridiculous social construct that's caused a lot of grief for a lot of people, Woods and his wife included. Not all of us are wired to spend our lives with one person.

Not that who Woods is or is not sleeping with is anybody's business anyway. Pick someone else to grumble over, and let the man sink or swim in his own pool, not in the media's.

Posted by: ranyhyn | December 8, 2009 2:50 PM
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Why don't people be a leader for their own children, instead of pawning it off onto sports figures? They are Entertainers, not pillars of the community to look up to. He plays a game for a living and makes ridiculous money for it.

So he never got lucky in college and now he's making up for it....he should never have gotten married if he wants to behave like that. The only person this should matter to is his wife.

Posted by: sandradbeachbum | December 8, 2009 2:24 PM
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The author didn't mention -- did she ever cheat during a relationship?

I think his endorsements were because we idolized him. No public figure is that perfect.

Posted by: nkwari | December 8, 2009 2:17 PM
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It is quite simple. Gentlemen: Keep it zipped! Ladies: Do the same. This is nothing more than lack of respect for those they love and a complete lack of self control. Shameful all around.

Posted by: OldTimeRider | December 8, 2009 1:52 PM
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People forget he was a role model for his own children. Now they know that their daddy is a liar. Now they know daddy horribly mistreated their mommy. That will stick with them the rest of their lives.

What this says about Tiger, the Serial Philanderer, speaks volumes.

Posted by: HillRat | December 8, 2009 1:32 PM
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Oh dear, I guess I shouldn't have mentioned Nancy Koehn's "little problem." I mean, it's her business what she "does" to keep up her energy in the academic rat race. And it's more common than you'd think. She wouldn't be the first.

And just because she's a Harvard scholar who likes to judge the humanity of other named individuals in a public forum, it doesn't mean that she's some celebrity-hungry wanna-be. And since she's not a celebrity, then we shouldn't discuss her personal failings in this forum, now should we?

Posted by: bigbrother1 | December 8, 2009 1:20 PM
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Nancy your right but you seen to forget Tiger is not an elected President or official. People choose to listen and watch Tiger. We saw George W. Bush destroy, lie, steal and bring chaos around the World yet nothing was said. Tiger is a sport figure and when he goes back to winning championships people will follow his and cheer. America loves a winner and loves to bring down very rich Black people. We have seen White sports figures do worse with just a pat on the head. Now many of these woman are not only lying but using the Media for money. Tiger and his wife will learn and grow from this as Kobe did. I do notice how supportive the Media and Columist are with Baucus, Ensign, Vitter, Foley, Craig and others who do worse but are honored and cheered by people such as yourself.

Posted by: qqbDEyZW | December 8, 2009 1:19 PM
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Tiger Woods has apparently made some mistakes in his life.
He is only human, the only crime he has committed is playing around after he got married instead of doing it before he married.
It is no big deal, almost every crooked politician in government has broken some type of ethics, moral or some other rule during their time in congress.
Leave Tiger alone and let him take care of his own problems in private.
If our news media services had any morals, scruples or ethics at all, they would not be reporting on trash like this.
But they have no ethics what so ever themselves.

Posted by: JimW2 | December 8, 2009 1:16 PM
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Hahahahahaa i just cant believe we are becoming so stupid as the author of this column, that Tiger has responsibility for the children of the world who worship him. PLEASE get real with yourself and stop looking for excuses for your kids failure, since he was worshiping Tiger. We all are responsible for ourselves and should not claim we need an explaination of something, which is none of our business. Yes, he cheated, he needs to answer to his wife. Have you answered to yourself of what you have personally done wrong? Probably not!! So stop jumping into other peoples business while you have a lot of stuff in your own closet.

Posted by: ppliers | December 8, 2009 1:14 PM
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Please people he isn't the first man to cheat on his wife and he sure isn't the last man!!!! The same people that are talking down on him are doing the same thing man or woman. Let it go already! Is it really any bodies business what he is doing No!

Posted by: msthall06 | December 8, 2009 12:52 PM
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As a woman who is in a long term relationship and set to get married next year this year was a terrible year for marriage.

Mark Sanford
John Ensign
David Vittors
Elliot Spitzer
John Edwards

And a host of other athletes and entertainers. But the reality is... nothing happens as a result of an extramarital affair.

David Vitters has several prostitutes and is still the lead to win his race. The people of South Carolina are not upset with Sanford for his affair but for leaving South Carolina without proper notice.

Affairs are considered private matters to the American people. 72% of American say it is private matter and when asked if Tiger should go on Oprah over 54% says it would be better to stay private. For his bottom line not one sponsor will pull his endorsements. And if every woman choses to rouse a protest--they were never Tiger Wood's base.

Posted by: 411Tibby | December 8, 2009 12:52 PM
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I completely disagree with this column. We never learn anything from the self flagellating confessions of public figures. The public just enjoys the spectacle- it's like reality TV only with a real celebrity instead of a bunch of wannabees. Disgraced celebrities have no moral obligation to participate.

In a way, Tiger is doing something worthwhile by ignoring all these self serving calls for information from the media. He is proving that it is possible to resist the media maelstrom. Resistance is not futile! Privacy is not dead! Keep it up, Tiger!

Posted by: bbabcoc1 | December 8, 2009 12:43 PM
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I must agree with the other comments to the extent that Tiger unlike Bono and Oprah he has never talked to the public about things other than golf and golf issues. He doesn't talk about global warming, racism, etc. He talks about golf and mostly only right after a golf tournament. He probably just wants a regular guy life but obviously can't have that. I can't support his infidelity but if everyone who has been less than faithful had to answer to the press it might seem ridiculous.

Posted by: adam907 | December 8, 2009 12:39 PM
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"Around the world, men, women and particularly teenagers have looked to Woods for inspiration and credible hope and a clean path on which to walk."

They have? How do you know that? We always here these claims that kids look to athletes for "how to live life," yet when you ask kids who their role models are, they invariably respond with parents or teachers.

Is it unfortunate to learn this about Tiger? Of course. Should we have expected him to be a saint based on his ability to nail clutch putts? That's the spectator's mistake, not Tiger's. I don't see what he has done that we should hold him to a different standard than we do ourselves.

Posted by: minnesotacharm | December 8, 2009 12:38 PM
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Instead of blaming only Tiger, we should accept our own part in all this: we have created the demi-gods of celebrities, giving them roles beyond their deserts, following their advice on what to read, what to buy, what to eat, what to do as if we were mindless, making them some sort of superior beings when their only claim to authority was a skill in controlling a little ball or merely the skill of holding our attention.

Posted by: junevu1 | December 8, 2009 12:33 PM
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All the media sharks are circling the Tiger. It makes them all look like bloodthirsty, scandal-mongering piranha looking for their pound of flesh to exploit. Every bimbo in Florida is claiming he is Tony the Tiger. Just greaaaat!

What really happened? It appears a wild, near-psychotic, Norwegian valkyrie viciously attacked him with a golf club. Why wasn't she arrested?

Posted by: alance | December 8, 2009 12:23 PM
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Nancy Koehn asks rhetorically - "Will he take up the responsibility he has as a role model for millions of people and use this moment to claim the higher ground of admitting one's mistakes ..."


A mistake is an occasional, a one time thing. Woods is a serial philanderer, an addict, an abuser of women, and a veritable Mr. Hyde in Dr. Jekyll's facade.

He is far worse than a merely rich guy who visits houses of prostitution to satisfy his fetishes. In using his superstardom to reel in assorted women to his lair, and carrying on parallel affairs with them, he has shown a total disregard for any minimal standard of civilized behaviour, and has thumbed his nose on his wife, his fans, his colleagues on the circuit, ...

He is a wretched human being. That is a given. But in this affair, the press and his golf buddies fare very badly, for covering up for him when some of them must have suspected, and some of them have known about his atrocious behaviour. That he can hit a golf ball better than most on any given day cannot, and should not have been a carte blanche for him.

The media, his colleagues, and to an extent, even his wife (surely she should have known, had she any curiosity) acted as enablers in this sorry episode.

Woods cannot "claim higher ground by admitting his mistakes", in the same manner as a Jeffrey Daumer, or a Dick Cheney, or an Augustus Pinochet could not. Entertaining the possibility of it should itself be anaethema in a civil society.

Posted by: ashrink | December 8, 2009 12:16 PM
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Great commentary Nancy. Tiger Woods was a respected leader until now and his response will have serious consequences. For his sake I hope he has the grace and wisdom to recognize his stupidity and what he has done to potentially destroy his reputation.

Contrary to what others may think, Tiger is a very public figure and like it or not, his infantile antics are very much "our business".

Posted by: bigboof100 | December 8, 2009 12:15 PM
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He's a very very good golfer and he has never ever professed to be anything else.

Posted by: rlj1 | December 8, 2009 12:15 PM
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Tiger Woods does not involve himself in politics. His responsibility is to be the best golfer he can or wants to be. No one elected him to public office. His responsibility to the public is limited. If corporations choose not to pay him money to use his persona, then so be it. If people were using a stranger to influence their children's behavior, then shame on them. If adults were using a stranger to model their behavior, then double shame on them.

Posted by: mitchald1 | December 8, 2009 12:13 PM
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Save us your Moral Lecture lady. Move on...

Posted by: A-Voter | December 8, 2009 12:07 PM
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Please give credit where it's due. In your text you paraphrase "with such enormous power comes ongoing responsibility", but on the Post homepage you have the original "with great power comes great responsibility".

Stan Lee, 1963, Amazing Fantasy #15, the origin of Spiderman

If only Tiger had been reading comic books while Dad was turning him into a golf machine . . .

Posted by: nmsss | December 8, 2009 12:06 PM
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This and all statements about Woods' is just BS...The guy is a freaking GOLFER...not president of the free world. Bill Clinton is now one of the most popular ex-presidents on record....Who the hell are we to tell this guy how to live his life. He owes us zero...don't like him, wel don't buy the "whatever" he is peddling and don't watch him play.

Posted by: october30 | December 8, 2009 11:59 AM
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Why do we think that being good at sports automatically makes someone a good leader?

I agree with the other comments who said Tiger Woods never asked to be a leader, nor did he style himself as one. He's good at golf, that's all. Don't confuse admiration for someone's athletic skills as a plea for an athlete to be a leader, an authority on global events, or anything of the sort.

Posted by: Sitka1 | December 8, 2009 11:57 AM
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50% of Americans have affairs and none of them are your business. He has no obligation to live up to your's or mine expectations. His endorsements may suffer and that is his own fault but his love life is none of your business, no more then your love life is his. So mind your own business and save your righteous pontification for another subject.

Posted by: jackson641 | December 8, 2009 11:54 AM
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When Tiger leaves the country to live in Europe how will you fill your time? I am going to purchase a TAG Heuer Golf crystal watch designed by guess who? Tiger
And retails for quess what? $1600 Why? Because if I wear Tiger's watch and clothes and use his clubs for a magic second I may hit that little white ball like Tiger hopefully in front of witnesses.
Yes. And I am not along I see more Tiger baseball caps now than I did before he "shirked" his pseudo responsibility.
I hope he updates his swing tips today

Posted by: specer1 | December 8, 2009 11:53 AM
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Why has the country (or perhaps it's really the media) come to require such public scrutiny about the personal lives of household names? From celebrities to politicians to professional athletes, I think the real issue here is about the undue expectation of public accountability and exposure on matters highly personal.

And since when does a professional athlete become a defacto leader on the world stage in terms of morals and conduct? Tiger is very good at playing golf, and as a result many people of all ages admire him. Let's not make that out to be more than it is, or expect people like Tiger to fill some sort of leadership void when the real gap is within our own families and communities - this is where the real role models should exist for our children, not in the pages of People or Sports Illustrated.

Posted by: Sue811 | December 8, 2009 11:34 AM
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Another wasted critique. Business leader? Seriously? The guy plays golf. He wins at golf. Has a lot of endorsements. That's about all you can write about Tiger Woods, until recently.

Tiger Woods never, ever announced anything to the world saying that he is no longer a golfer, but a leader. He had a foundation set up in his name -- to help inner city kids play golf. He never challenged apartheid, he never stood up for fairness in the workplace. He never led global campaigns against poverty. He golfed. He golfed and drove GM cars and doodled Perkins waitresses.

Bill Gates he is not. Tiger, like a bunch of other golfing chumps, is just a P-hound who felt somewhere in his golf mind that he had to get married.

Leave this nonsense behind.

Posted by: Meepo | December 8, 2009 11:16 AM
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