In managing a crisis, conventional wisdom commands to talk to the media as quickly as possible, tell what you know, tell it all and promise more as soon as more information is known. As Tiger Woods copes with what he calls his “personal failings,” his one car accident on November 27, 2009 at his estate, some have suggested he employs the conventional wisdom of crisis management. See Magic Johnson on Larry King, December 4, 2009.
Tiger Woods has so far resisted, choosing instead to employ an unconventional approach for which, in my opinion, he deserves an A grade in crisis management.
All crises are not the same. This one especially is particularly unusual. Managing it successfully therefore will require thinking outside the proverbial box. Whatever techniques employed must take into account the exigency, the principal(s) involved, the audience, the relations, method, and the kairos. Knowingly or unknowingly his approach has these six basic elements, helping him earn an A grade:
1. The exigency: A so-called crisis, which compels some response from someone. Is there really an exigency or a crisis?
There’s only a crisis if the principal stands to lose legitimacy and benefit he enjoyed from his most important audience or public. It is this same public from whom he will seek and receive forgiveness and reputational restoration.
Woods, in his statement on his website, has correctly identified the exigency: personal failings, issue with his wife; accident involving public property, namely fire hydrant, and tree in a neighbor’s yard.
2. The Principal: Tiger Woods. Tiger Woods has enormous reservoir of goodwill from the public the world over. He is intensely private. Other than speaking to the media after one of his numerous golf tournament wins, Tiger Woods does not do media interviews. No one knows his political views or his religious thinking. To whom does he then ask forgiveness? Who therefore would grant him such forgiveness? If so, what does the general public granting Tiger Woods forgiveness mean?
3. The audience. There is an audience of ONE! Mrs. Tiger Woods. So far, there is only a personal failing. His approach has been to isolate, and lock himself up with his most important public and try to work out his personal failing and issues in their marriage.
Any public acknowledgement or statement will be a mistake. A public statement will expand the audience to include the broader public whose only interest is in the juiciness of the story of possible infidelity of Mr. Tiger Woods, and possible problem in his marriage. There’s absolutely no reason to meet the press and talk to any other audience? Most people like Tiger Woods, not because of his morality, but because of his prowess on the Golf course. With time and more wins, the audience will forget about his personal failings.
4. The relations. The relationship to his most important audience is marriage. It is this audience that has been wronged. It is this audience he must seek forgiveness. It is this audience that has the power to grant forgiveness, restore his benefits and make Tiger Woods whole again.
5. The method: His method of communicating he has chosen has been his website. Granted, it is the proverbial drip, drip; the very worst way to deliver a message in a conventional crisis management, he has written about his “personal failing,” suggesting he is not perfect. With this method, he has managed to control what he says to his fans which include this writer.
6. The kairos. The timing and measure of response.
Friends and so-called experts are calling for Mr. Woods to talk to the media, own up to his failings and “be done with it.”
He has chosen instead to hold off and only write generically about the issue on his website. He has cancelled appearing in the next tournament. With possible scar on his face, possibly from his wife’s blow, meeting the media will only serve to further sensationalize the issue and worsen the issue. Besides, no one knows the extent of Tiger Woods’ involvement with other women. Probably, not even Tiger Woods. Who knows what other woman may soon come out? How will he answer that inevitable question, are you involved with any other woman?