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Donald Kettl
Academic Dean

Feeding the ravenous beast

Q: As the de facto leader of Golf Inc., how did Tiger Wood perform at Monday's pre-Master's press conference? What did he need to accomplish to resuscitate his brand? What lessons could other embattled leaders, such as the Pope and GOP chairman Michael Steele, draw from Tiger's handling of the press?

When Tiger Woods faced a hungry media on Monday, he did what he had to do: feed the beast, but not stick his hand back into the cage. "I lied to a lot of people," he told reporters. "I rationalized. I kept a lot of people in the dark. I even lied to myself."

He needs to do more than just get himself back on the links as perhaps the premier golfer of all time. Without Tiger Woods shirts and hats and video games, golf would slide down the ratings. It's not a very good sport for television--long, whispered commentaries, punctuated by a few seconds of watching a ball take a looping course toward the cup. The azaleas in the background help, but in the end the sport needs stars doing what weekend duffers can only dream of. Woods needed his press conference to do that: to get his head back in the game and to put his fans back into the stores.

At his press conference, he focused much less on his pursuit of the four major championships he needs to tie Jack Nicklaus's all-time record than on how to make himself a better person. First was centering. "It's not about the championships," he explained. "It's how you live your life."

After that came contrition: "I had not done that the right way for a while, and I needed to change that." Then commitment: "I need to be a better man going forward than I was before." Then back to centering for the finish: "I'm trying as hard as I possibly can each and every day to get my life better and better and stronger, and if I win championships along the way, so be it."

For his first serious conversation after the tabloid-mania, it was a scratch-golfer's effort. Maybe better. From here, it's up to whether his clubs can silence his critics--and whether he can avoid stumbling back into the behavior that stirred up this tempest to begin with.

Leaders-in-trouble could do worse than to follow this centering-contrition-commitment-centering strategy. In the last week, the Vatican has found that digging in, blaming the messenger, and playing the victim fed the beast but only made it more voracious. Michael Steele suffered even worse by seeming not even to notice he was dishing out irresistibly juicy steaks to carnivores.

There's a lesson for leaders here. Ducking and weaving and blaming and ignoring rarely works in the short term and never works in the long term. Leaders who stop the process, step away from it long enough to look themselves in the mirror, and tell people what they've found do better. Those who can follow that with contrition about the past and commitment for the future have a chance for a new start.

By Donald Kettl

 |  April 6, 2010; 6:39 AM ET
Category:  Wrong-Doing Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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