Value Systems : How to Be Ethical AND Profitable or Why Tiger Woods Does Not Cheat

Mark Goulston is Senior Vice President of Emotional Intelligence at Sherwood Partners, a Palo Alto, California-based turnaround and growth consulting firm.

Author of 'Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior', Goulston is also a professor at UCLA. In his work, he helps leaders and teams quickly recognize, accept, correct, and learn from mistakes.

Mark can be contacted through his website, or by e-mail;

Q: Why doesn’t Tiger Woods cheat?
A: He doesn’t have to.

Why doesn’t he have to? Because he has a huge competitive advantage over every other golfer!

What’s a competitive advantage? There are three things going on when you’re playing against Tiger (and the same was true of Jack Nicklaus thirty years ago): 1) You know Tiger can beat you; 2) Tiger knows he can beat you; 3) Tiger knows that you know he can beat you. That is a competitive advantage.

Tiger built his competitive advantage by:

  • Having the guidance of firm, loving and dedicated parents;
  • Honoring their sacrifice for and commitment to him by giving his best to golf;
  • Respecting and meeting the demands and challenges of the game of golf by mastering the fundamentals and mechanics enabling him to execute every conceivable shot from every conceivable ball location;
  • Eliminating the flaws in his swing, game plan and mental concentration so he doesn’t have to compensate by cutting a corner or using a gimmick that lesser players may turn to.

Competitive advantage or lack thereof is the key to ethical behavior in sports, in business, and in life. Sometimes it is the perception of one’s own competitive advantage rather than the reality of it that is the greatest determinant of that individual’s behavior. For example, it is a foregone conclusion that Bill Gates would have been very successful had he been ethical throughout his career. But having not recognized, realized or in essence perceived his inherent successful abilities early in his career, Bill Gates, Entrepreneur, may have been tempted to “stack the deck” in his favor to guarantee winning. Now with giant successes in the can, respect and esteem from non-ethically challenged pals such as Warren Buffett, and innocent trust from his young children causing him to “want to be a better man,” Bill Gates, The Sequel, is aspiring to become the ethical elder statesman of technology.

Ethical behavior is directly proportionate to competitive advantage. The greater the competitive advantage, the easier it is to be honest. The greater the competitive disadvantage (compounded by unrelenting pressure to meet unrealistic expectations), the greater the temptation to stray or lie. In golf this translates into taking an ungiven gimme putt, moving your ball to a better lie in the woods, or just lying about your score. In business, it becomes manipulating numbers to meet earnings projections, expensing personal expenses, and/or misleading customers, shareholders, or employees.

When ethics are breached, public outcry causes a President and Congress to rapidly pass a Sarbanes-Oxley Act; when terrorists blow up skyscrapers with jetliners killing thousands and terrorizing millions, it triggers taking extreme measures to beef up airport security; when career criminals blatantly ignore the law, we pass a three strikes law hoping it will make a difference; and when, most tragically, children shoot other children, we replace the smiling greetings by teachers with metal detectors.

It is short-sighted to confuse the deterrents of regulatory legislation, airport security, three strikes laws or metal detectors with definitive solutions to these problems. Nevertheless short-term though they may be, these deterrents are necessary first reactions to such events. On the surface, they demonstrate power to help counter feelings of powerlessness and outrage. More importantly they bind anxiety, fear and terror and prevent them from mushrooming into panic.

By themselves, such remedies are doomed to fail in the long run. Metal detectors, three strikes, anti-terror measures and Sarbanes-Oxley (plus additional regulatory measures) will only briefly deter the criminal behavior they are directed at. Longer lasting solutions require solving the underlying problems. The have not impoverished people abroad who turn to terrorism, the have not young and old adults in our country who turn to crime, the have not children who violently retaliate against their schools and school mates, and the have not companies pressured to meet unrealistic expectations all need to be given and taught to use rather than destroy resources to help them compete successfully in each of their worlds.

People and peoples of the world who can’t find a way to get ahead, find a way to get even.

Ó Copyright Mark Goulston 2004

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