What Lance, Kwetu, Tiger and David have in common….

Much can be read between the lines of what Lance Armstrong has disclosed to Oprah Winfrey over the last two days. Of particular interest is the fact that he didn’t really confess at all. First of all, he said, everyone was doing it. Secondly, you couldn’t win without doing it. A confession, in my mind, requires guilt as well as admission. Lance only feels the latter.

Why? Because he is one of many recent performers who get ‘stuck in the lie’. Until it’s too late. Interestingly, all of them are successful. All of them work in high pressure environments with a focus on competition. The ‘addiction’ manifests itself in various ways – deception, doping, arrogance or adultery – the symptom is unimportant. What matters is the cause.

If you’re name is Tiger Woods, Kwetu Adoboli, David Cameron or Lance Armstrong, you have become addicted to winning. You have become so addicted to winning that what starts off as a single and minor issue quickly becomes a way of life. In Tiger’s case, an addiction to winning extended from the golf course outside the marital bed. Each woman was a conquest, another major trophy. For Kwetu, each deal fueled and quite literally funded an aspiration that disaster might somehow be turned to glory. It wasn’t. For Cameron, the abject refusal to listen to Leveson, Heseltine or Milliband is driven by a terror of seeming weak and thirst to wield power. No wonder he has been accused of wavering – so unable has he become to listen to others that he hasn’t evolved an opinion agile enough for office, rather he continues to regurgitate the same views he’s held most of his adult life. And finally, to Armstrong. No comment was more revealing than his revelation that he “lost himself” in the fairytale narrative of an athlete who battled back from testicular cancer to triumph in cycling’s most gruelling race, raise a beautiful family and launch a cancer charity, Livestrong. The pursuit of perfection could never be achieved if that first small instance of doping was admitted to, and a career on the straight and narrow pursued. The only way to maintain the illusion was to lie, and continue lying. Until it was too late.

These men all buried their heads in the sand (some continue to do so) and hoped it would all go away. They replicated the behaviour continually, and got caught up in the tsunami-like effect it brought with it. Like a poker player going ‘on tilt’, I do believe these men could not have stopped themselves even if they wanted to. All that mattered was self-gratification and that required the maintaining of an illusion.

This phenomenon is not restricted to individuals. It has hit businesses just as hard. Tesco’s recent advert apologising for the discovery of horse meat in its burgers is another example of our ‘ready, fire, aim’ culture, where we address real problems not at first evidence, but when the sh*t really hits the fan. Tesco’s pledge: ‘So here’s our promise. We will find out exactly what happened and, when we do, we’ll come back and tell you.’ It’s a bit late for that!

Recession increases competition. Competition in turn increases our need to demonstrate our worth and prove we are better than the rest. To do that, we must find an edge against the competition. Some will go to extraordinary lengths to do so. Tiger wanted to be superhuman. Kwetu wanted the biggest coup UBS had ever seen. Cameron wants to wield power and Armstrong wanted a perfect life. All these things are understandable I suppose, but none are sustainable. Just as the boom years eventually had to go bust, so do those who use deception or arrogance as a means to feel good have to face the music, usually via a revelation loud enough to make the ears of the world prick up and listen.