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.

9 comments on “Tiger or Tomcat: Perception vs. Reality

  1. Tiger was communicating exceptionally well to have that many women fooled. Did any of them notice that he probably did not write their names directly on the text but instead sent out a general text to see who would answer? Or did he really have an extramarital assistant in some office quizzing him on names and setting up dates like a diet counselor arranges meals? I think Tiger should secretly pay a T-shirt company to print, “I slept with Tiger too” and sell those to recover some of his losses. (That is a joke and probably in poor taste.)

    My thoughts are that Tiger had a script and it he repeated it over and over. It was what his audience wanted to think, believe, and imagine. He sold them on his fame and now all of that is being cashed in. I think he will continue to say what everyone wants to hear him say- I’m sorry. I’m back. I’m changed. Or he will not saying anything at all. After all, he is a golfer, not a TV evangelist.

    He is still the best golfer ever. I think what all these women are teaching us is that we all must take care who we idolize. Knowing the right thing to say is less important than doing the right thing. I support Obama too but I hope his actions or the legislation he passes will create a better America.

  2. Thanks Steve,

    I’ve retweeted your blog link – good post. We’re in agreement.

    And I like your new line – I RT’d someone with something like it, but think I’ll use that for a reference, (and give you credit).


  3. Hey Bert,

    I agree, Tiger has handled this terribly. I think a big public “mea culpa” followed by a soul searching Oprah “exclusive” would of definately been a stronger approach. Especially when the media is all over him looking for every opportunity to tell the story their own way.

    I’ve blogged on this exact topic too –

    3 lessons Tiger Woods can teach you about communications http://bit.ly/8AfZoN

    Quick preview:
    Lesson 1) Reputation takes years to create and is lost in a moment.

    There are 2 more but I’d love to hear what you think!

    I since have thought of a better headline

    “How Tiger became a Cheetah and what we can learn from it.”

  4. Nick, Mostly agree, except that Tiger WAS a great ‘controlled’ communicator. But ultimately that doesn’t work so well. See below:

    Brandon, Don’t agree about Blago, but fully agree with you last point – and ideally character and communication are one. When they are not, character will always trump communication (or lack of character, values, integrity, etc.)

    There is a great saying of Solomon, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Elsewhere in the writings of the best seller of all time Luke says “out of the overflow of the heart a man speaks.”

    That’s how we all should strive to communicate.

  5. Bert,

    I think communication is not the only thing that contributes towards people’s “perception” of a person, particularly when they are celebrities. Although I agree that it can influence our perception greatly. I think what mostly defines our perceptions is not how they communicate, but rather how they carry themselves during a time of crisis.

    For example, Tiger’s lack of communication has brought more speculation, which has tainted his public image. Often times it is the other way around, however. Public figures enthusiasm to communicate with the media in hopes to persuade people’s negative perception actually do more harm than good. Blagojevich is a good example. Communication can help them (if done very well), but it can also damage their public persona.

    Fundamentally, the issue here is first about character and then about communication. If the perception is that a person has questionable character, then their image will be tainted regardless of their communication skills. However, if the perception is that a person has a strong character (but maybe had a lapse in judgment), then the general public will most likely be less harsh and more forgiving.

    Agree or disagree?

  6. Great point Lisa.
    Communications is right at the top – but one’s values and behavior is the ultimate trump card.
    Thanks for the comment.

  7. Bert, this reminds me of the book “Yes You Can! Behind the Hype and Hustle of the Motivation Biz.” The author gives an example of motivational speakers who are warm and accessible onstage, but the minute they’re offstage they run for the limo, ignoring the audience members who are waiting to talk to them. A celebrity or public figure can only get away with this public/private personality split for so long. They will be discovered, and as you point out, unless they can manage their communication, they won’t recover.

  8. Bert – I am not sure I would say that Tiger was ever a great communicator. If anything he was an excellent pitchman who never had a position on anything except how much he liked the sponsors who pay him millions of dollars. That being said, I love to watch him play golf. I will continue to love watching him play golf even after this incident (and I am one of the people who want to hear more about the various indiscretions).

    However he has shown via his two media statements that he has absolutely no clue on how to deal with criticism or how to make people connect with him. He should have issued a video statement explaining something, rather than attacking the media for their critiques of his “transgressions”.

    In the end, I feel he will never repair his reputation, but if he continues to win majors and tournaments he will regain his status as the worlds best athlete/pitchman.