Tiger Woods
Chasing History

Thursday, September 10, 2009 by Dave Blum

There’s an interesting article in a recent Sports Illustrated about Dick Fosbury, the gawky teenager who pretty much invented the modern style of high jumping.   Before Fosbury, people essentially jumped forward and straddled the high-jump bar as they went over.  Fosbury did it backwards–jumping with his back to the bar and literally bending himself backwards to clear it…to enormous success.

What really interested me in the article was Fosbury’s motivation for competing.  The author writes:

“Fosbury was not intrigued by benchmarks. In fact, after his event was won, he never continued jumping just to set a record. “He jumps against people, not heights,” Wagner said.

Compare this with what Alex Tresniowski writes about Tiger Woods in his book, Tiger Virtues:

“Thus Tiger is not waging battle against against his fellow golfers or even against Niklaus
and other guardians of history–Tiger is pitted against himself to see what his own limits are.”

This is a significant distinction–what motivates us and our fellow teammates?  Is it something external, like “beating” one’s competitors, or internal, like pushing one’s own’s limits or exceeding some never-achieved standards.

As managers we have to know how our people are motivated.  However, we also need to weigh the possible downside of using external “competition” as a motivator.    If our goal, for example, is to defeat fellow co-workers in our own organization, aren’t we opening the door to silos, clique-ishness and overall divisiveness?

Myself, I vote for the Tiger approach.He writes:

“Who knows?  I hope I’ll become the best ever.  But the best me–that’s a little more important.”