Tiger Woods has an open zipper problem and it’s not what you think


Damaged reputations can only be repaired by new accomplishments that paint over misdeeds.

Tiger Woods

Every business person (male and female) has had a career-changing open zipper problem. You may have one now, and not even know it. Tiger Woods has one and it is not what you think it is.

As the story was told to me, a rising star in marketing at a FORTUNE 50 company had been on a roll.  His cutting-edge campaigns increased market share by seven percent.  Buzz about him extended from the executive suite, through trade media, to analysts who were downgrading competitors.

Then, one day while preparing for a boardroom presentation, he used the executive suite men’s room. Before exiting, he checked his tie, hair and breath, but overlooked his still-open zipper.  Just as he exited, the CEO walked toward him taking critical note of the gaping fly.

The CEO just stared at his groin

He re-zipped before the presentation where he enthralled everyone, except the CEO, who could concentrate on nothing but the man’s groin.  The star fell.  He never made a boardroom presentation again.  He jumped to another company where his career rocketed skyward once again and never never knew why he lost favor at Company A.

Because we are not Tiger Woods, no one reports the open zippers in our careers. We have to stay alert for the small mistakes or inappropriate actions, having nothing to do with performance, that can thwart our effectiveness.  Woods is lucky, he knows what his open zipper is (the metaphor was not contrived either, just kismet), therefore he can develop a plan for resolving it.

Most of us are not so fortunate.  Like the torpedoed marketing pro, we never see the open zipper.  Sometimes, we sense something wrong and respond by working better or harder, never knowing that the problem is totally unrelated.

For normal non-celebrities, the open zipper might be:

  • Being behind deadline on one of your many projects.  It may be the least important, but until you get that one done, those in charge do not care about anything else you do.
  • Overcharging $5 on one line item in an invoice that totaled $20,000. Until you adequately explain why it happened, and satisfy the customer’s concern, the entire relationship is tainted.
  • Having your words misquoted or misrepresented.  You often don’t know who is reading conference reports, emails and other communications around your business, which means your zipper can be reopened over and over.

Can we learn anything from Tiger?

New York Magazine’s astute assessment,
Maybe Tiger Woods Knows Exactly What He’s Doing, suggests he has an excellent plan for handling the problem. Stay out of site and wait for it to pass. That works for him because he’s Tiger Woods, he knows what the problem is, and he has the resources to outlast it. After all it is just an open zipper.

The rest of us need to be more vigilant. Because an open zipper problem can happen any time, whether we have done something wrong or not, keep your antenna up. If people look at you differently, if you are receiving fewer important e-mails, or meeting invites decrease, your zipper may be open. Do everything you can to identify the problem. Then come up with a plan. Open zipper problems can be solved, but first you have to know the fly is down and shut it.

Until the memory fades from the minds of those who matter — bosses, clients, family members, fans, reporters, etc. — Tiger Woods and the rest of us with open zipper problems are just the same, sideshows unable to do our jobs.

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Greg Rankin March 1, 2011, 4:33 pm

Excellent points, John. Relatedly, some salespeople have bad habits or other attributes that can torpedo sales without them even knowing it. It’s important to take a hard look in the mirror or have someone else do it for you. If you’re shooting yourself in the foot you need to find out and get rid of the gun.

Kevin Andreassend December 24, 2009, 1:07 am

Very well described John. I think that happens far more than we realise, whether it is a career, or social or private settings. We have all suffered this I believe. The challenge is stay zipped up when it matters!
Kevin Andreassend