On April 14th, golf legend Tiger Woods cinched his fifth Masters title. His first Masters championship since 2005, the win has been dubbed one of the best career comeback stories in recent sporting history — a feat made even more impressive by Woods’ age. At 43, he has become the second-oldest tournament winner in the history of golf.
While his long-term record evidences overall success, Woods has suffered his share of (often quite public) failures. In 2009, Woods fell from grace in the public eye amidst media coverage documenting his infidelity and subsequent divorce. At the same time, his professional successes waned as he experienced a decline in athletic performance that would last nearly a decade. Once officially regarded as the number one golfer in the world, by May 2017 Woods was ranked at 1,193rd.
So how can someone who has made such detrimental mistakes — and suffered the consequences — return to secure the most coveted position in his profession? More than Woods’ undeniable talent for golf, his recent accomplishments underscore the high level of self-accountability that he has taken for regaining his professional success.
Many people misunderstand the fundamental differences in accountability vs. responsibility. Accountability goes beyond one’s duties (or responsibilities). Accountability is a more positive, proactive decision that involves committing to achieving a set of desired results rather than simply checking “to-do”s off of a list.
As defined by the New York Times bestseller The Oz Principle, accountability is the “personal choice to rise above your circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results.
Committing to improve himself and his game, Woods took accountability for his personal and athletic decline, honestly assessed the role he played in creating his circumstances, and ultimately made the changes necessary to rise above and win again.
Read on to learn how Tiger Woods overcame insurmountable odds by taking accountability.
Record-Breaking Personal Accountability
Though Woods had fallen significantly in worldwide rankings by 2017, he managed to qualify for the 2019 Masters — and eventually take the championship — by following a diligent set of steps.
First, he had to recognize the critical performance problems that were impeding his ability to achieve greater success. Adequately making this assessment required that Woods see the issues contributing to his poor performance evaluating both the internal and external factors affecting his existing results. His external constraints included inconsistent coaching and persistent back trouble, which caused him to suffer immense pain and affected his performance on the golf course.
However, what was more critical in improving his performance was identifying the factors within his own control that were contributing to poor performance. These included the personal choices he had made surrounding his domestic life and the coping mechanisms he chose to employ.
Recognizing the sum effect of these internal and external elements, he then had to own the role that he played in the decline in his performance on the course. In 2010, Woods held a press conference, publicly apologizing for his irresponsible behavior. He acknowledged his previous lack of accountability and expressed a renewed commitment to taking ownership for his own behaviors and the outcomes of those behaviors. He said: “I don’t get to play by different rules.”
Making the choice to rise above his circumstances — both externally-imposed and self-created — Woods began to solve the challenges affecting his athletic performance and reputation. He sought treatment to address the experiences and beliefs driving his behavior; he parted ways with a coach who did not suit his needs; he underwent four separate surgeries to heal his injured back and committed to physical therapy, despite the disheartening outcomes of previous procedures. He trained regularly and persisted despite public scrutiny and the unfairness of injury.
As a result of his willingness to see, own, and solve the critical problems hampering his results, Woods was able to finally do what he aspired to: reaping the rewards of his pledge to individual accountability and scoring a historic Masters win. He successfully shifted his attention from external limitations to the individual agency he had and thereby achieved his desired results. Through sustained focus, intentional long-term lifestyle changes, and healthy stress management methods, Woods was able to outperform his competitors and execute a major career comeback.
Winning with Accountability
Tiger Woods’ success at the 2019 Masters serves as testament to the importance of accountability. By transforming seemingly insurmountable hurdles into manageable obstacles that could be overcome with effort, patience, and radical ownership, Woods proved to the world that accountability is the secret to achieving what may seem unthinkable.
Woods’ winning accountability is more than a feel-good story, though: it should serve as a critical lesson for business leaders across sectors. When organizational leaders train all members of their team to take on Woods’ mindset, they cultivate a culture of accountability in the workplace.
By training each and every employee to take accountability every day rather than merely fulfill their responsibilities, leaders empower employees to break down silos, tackle the external and internal factors hindering performance, and problem-solve toward better results. Accountable employees see performance gaps early, own these problems and the work required to solve them, practice collaborative troubleshooting to solve these problems, and do what it takes to deliver on desired outcomes, ultimately propelling the organization toward champion-level results.