You don't have to be a rabid golf fan to know that something just happened in professional golf that was unprecedented and unpredicted: Tiger Woods lost a major golf tournament after leading at the halfway point of thirty-six holes.
On fourteen previous occasions, Tiger had occupied that premier midway spot in one of golf's four acclaimed majors--the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, and PGA Championship. In every case, he took the trophy home.
This time, sports writers and fans predicted the pattern would continue. Figure in that Tiger had won five times already in 2009, including the previous week.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the trophy presentation. Y.E. Yang, the other member of Tiger's twosome, shot 70, while Tiger scored an uncharacteristic closing 75. So, unseeded Yang won the championship by three shots.
While the golf pundits stay busy exploring what this stunning upset means for professional golf, let's consider three vital business lessons Tiger's loss provides.
FIRST: PAST SUCCESSES DON'T AWARD YOU THE NEXT CONTEST
Mary Kay Ash, who sold and managed her way to the top of the cosmetics industry, said this well, as quoted by her biographer Jim Underwood in More Than a Pink Cadillac: "Never rest on your laurels. Nothing wilts faster than a laurel sat upon."
Apply her advice to today's flooded job market. True, job seekers are wise to highlight their major accomplishments in their resumes, and to refer to them during their interviews. Although these achievements help their cause, past activities alone won't land a new position.
A potential employer will determine what you can do for her company now, next year, and beyond. How will you boost teamwork, sales, and customer service? Will you adjust successfully to the new corporate culture?
In the music industry, the phrase "one hit wonder" applies to many recording artists. Sadly, their careers plummeted soon after a meteoric rise to the top of the charts. They didn't keep producing what the public would buy.
So follow Mary Kay's counsel. Talk about your laurels enough to build your credibility, yet emphasize what you are going to do next that benefits your employer, clients, employees, other constituents, plus that all-important bottom line.
SECOND: TALENTED COMPETITORS SURROUND YOU
The PGA winner, Y.E. Yang (I mention his name again because few of us knew it until recently) didn't qualify for the final Sunday twosome by winning something like the Toledo club championship. Though far less heralded than Tiger, Yang had won the Honda Classic, and had finished in the top 10 in the Buick Open and Canadian Open.
In fact, the PGA tournament included at least three dozen players with the experience and skill to win the Wanamaker Trophy. Not even Tiger could ignore the stellar field.
Well, one key to remaining at the top in business is to recognize that vastly gifted competitors challenge you to remain innovative, to adjust to shocking changes, to be the first to offer new products and services, and to treat your customers better than anyone else could.
Think back a few years to the condescending comments some merchants and business owners made about an upstart company called Walmart. You can just hear their derisive words:
"From a hick town in Arkansas, won't amount to much."
"They won't affect us. Our folks will stay loyal to this company."
"They'll fold soon, like the other store that was on that corner before them."
As we know, any business executive who thought he could ignore the lesser known competition was miserably mistaken. Walmart has become the world's largest corporation according to revenue, and the world's largest private employer.
So here's another vital message: Never assume the competition seems trivial, less prestigious, unlikely to take control. Plan, work, manage, sell, and motivate as though your competitors are gaining on you. . .big-time.
THIRD: ONE BIG LOSS WILL NOT DESTROY YOUR CAREER
So, Tiger Woods did not win the PGA, nor any of the designated Majors this year. Would you consider him washed up, a has been? Would you bet against him in any tournament he enters? A thousand dollars, or more? Not likely--because you know that one loss, even one witnessed worldwide, will not destroy his confidence, reduce his talent, or erase his drive to remain number one.
Watch his play the rest of 2009. You'll still see plenty of fist-pumping action. He'll make miraculous shots other pros can only dream about. Very soon, he will forget the 75, and start posting 65s. Really,don't be surprised if he wins the next tournament he enters.
Relating to the business scene, have you experienced any of these threats?
- Downsized staff, making you accomplish more with less help
- Company has a new owner, you get a new boss
- Your health and retirement plans shrink drastically
- The company transfers you to a distant location
- You lose your job
- A potential employer who seems a "sure thing" hires another candidate
Once more, use the Tiger Woods analogy. You, too, will reach top levels again. Chances are strong you have done that before, after what you considered a career-ending catastrophe. Now, you are even more skilled, have additional leaders referring you, and know you can adjust to unsettling situations.
Tiger, you didn't win first prize, but certainly you gave all of us three superb business lessons.