Tiger or Tomcat: Perception vs. Reality

tiger SmilePerception vs. Reality

Some don’t want to hear any more about Tiger Woods, some can’t get enough of the story, and I suppose there are even a few who don’t know what I’m talking about. This post should satisfy everyone since it isn’t all about Tiger Woods, but he triggered the thought.

From Top Ten to Bottom Ten

I’m in the process of finalizing my annual Top Ten Best (and Worst) Communicators of 2009, and a few weeks ago Tiger was on the Best List. He is the first Tiger Nikeone ever to go from Best to Worst in the space of a week — because the perception was NOT the reality. (This will be a classic case history on how NOT to communicate in a media crisis.)

I’ve always said and firmly believe that the communications experience you create when you speak (both publicly and one-on-one) dominates how people think and feel about you. And as Abraham Lincoln said,


Perception is reality in the eye of the perceiver. And perception remains reality – until there’s dissonance.

Those who communicate well:

Real life reality ultimately catches up to those who might be great communicators, and are believed and heard, until it is seen that they don’t walk their talk. The political, corporate, and sports landscapes are strewn with examples: Bill Clinton, Mark Sanford, Larry Craig, John Edwards, Rod Blagojevich, Elliot Spitzer, Ken Lay, Martha Stewart, Bernie Madoff, Leona Helmsley, OJ Simpson, Pete Rose, Kobe Bryant, and many, many more…

– and now Tiger Woods.

It’s interesting that there can be redemption, but unfortunately it is rare. How many of those mentioned above actually recovered? Only three to date – Clinton, Martha, Kobe. And communications led the way.

Those who communicate poorly:

Also interesting is that there just aren’t very many examples of those who excelled in their fields, were not very good communicators, and fell from grace. They never really had a chance for high-level perception fame – and because of continuing lack of communication skills a low-level chance at redemption. Two examples come to mind:

Mark McGwire

Mike Tyson

Bottom line, if you communicate well, you have a great launching pad for success. You can wield great influence and celebrity. Communicating is important – even critical – to the highest success in the public market place. But if the perception is not matched by the reality of how one lives, he or she will ultimately fall. And though the best communicators will reach the highest peaks, yet they will also fall the farthest.

Tiger Woods better get to talking.