Neuroleadership clues to Tiger Wood’s Meltdown

Last week Augusta, Georgia hosted one of the world’s most prestigious golf tournaments, The Masters. Tiger Woods, a four-time winner and arguable today’s most talented golfer made the cut. He entered the tournament hoping for a strong showing. Unfortunately he finished tied for 40th.

What happened?


Neuroscience gives us clues not only to Tiger’s downward spiral that began when his personal foibles became public in 2009, but to how leaders lose their effectiveness when they don’t lead themselves well.

Leaders need at least three components to self-lead: competency, composure, and concentration. These three brain structures influence these qualities.

  • Competency: the basil ganglia, through a reward system, help fashion skill and form habits that develop competency.
  • Composure: the limbic system must stay balanced to ensure emotional control and to aid composure.
  • Concentration: the pre-frontal cortex (PFC), the brain’s executive center, facilitates good decision-making and promotes concentration.

In Tiger’s case, for years his basil ganglia have helped him hone his superb golfing skills. And as every golfer knows, golf is a mind game and requires intense concentration. His pre-frontal cortex has served him well as his past performance has shown his ability to concentrate during tournaments. Unfortunately this time his limbic system had a meltdown on the 16th hole when he kicked his clubs and cursed, a golfer’s faux pas. His game went downhill from then.

Without disparaging Tiger, his story provides a living metaphor for leaders who recognize self-leadership is a pre-requisite to leading others. The basal ganglia, the limbic system, and the pre-frontal cortex must all ‘dance’ together for us to self-lead well. When they don’t, basal ganglia developed skills fall short, PFC aided concentration evaporates, and limbic system meltdowns replace composure.

And when that happens, the result is costly. In Tiger’s case, he earned only $32,000. The winner earned $1,441,000.

What has you experience been when a leader around you lost his or her self-leadership composure through a meltdown?


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