Monday, January 9, 2012

Lessons in Leadership: Tim Tebow


There have been many great football players over the years.  But, very few have had that additional "X Factor" which propel them and their teams to even greater heights, as demonstrated by Tim Tebow, the quarterback of the Florida Gators from 2006-2009 and the current starting quarterback of the Denver Broncos.  I think that "X Factor" in leadership is worth talking about, as it applies to people in business, as well as sports.

First, a few stats on Tebow.  While a player at Florida, the Gators acheived an impressive 48-7 record between 2006 to 2009 (a meteoric 87% win rate), led by the play of Tebow.  The Gators won two national championships during this time (2006 and 2008) and Tebow won the Heisman Trophy for the best player in college football in 2007, the first time a sophomore ever won the award.  When you watched Tebow play, especially with the game on the line, he just oozed confidence and leadership.

And, as for his young pro career, Tebow took over as the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos mid-season in 2011.  He helped to turn a struggling 1-4 team, into an 8-8 divisional champion (7-3 Tebow record), that believed in itself and unexpectedly made the playoffs and knocked off the perennially great 12-4 Pittsburgh Steelers last night in a thrilling OT win (capped off by a walk-off touchdown pass by Tebow to end the game).  Tebow has not always played great during the entirety of these games (often ugly for three quarters and amazing in the final quarter that matters).  But, he does enough to lead his team to a win, often in thrilling fashion, which is what matters most.

Although the stats speak for themselves, they are not what is most impressive about Tebow.  It is his leadership abilities and deep religious convictions that overcome his unorthodox playing style, often criticized for not being good enough to succeed in the NFL (e.g., relies too much on running, weak throwing arm, awkward throwing motion).  But, Tebow doesn't listen to his critics, which amazingly includes some of his bosses, like John Elway, the former great Bronco QB and current EVP of Football Operations for the Broncos.  He just plays with a sense of confidence and conviction, regardless of what people say, or whether his in-game statistics fall short.  He simply wills his team to victory, either with skill or divine intervention.  His now famous praying position on one knee has become a word of its own ("Tebowing"), and is now being copied by people across the country.

But, what is most impressive, is the effect Tebow has on his teammates.  They are often quoted as saying there is no one they would rather follow into battle than Tebow.  Tebow's energy is infectious.  Tebow's hard work ethic and playing style, earn the respect of his peers.  And, even Tebow's religious conviction is rubbing off on his teammates, which is amazing in a 21st century sports world which is more typically driven by players with big egos commanding big paychecks.

I don't know if Tebow will be able to maintain his NFL success, or even his starting QB position, in the coming years, or not.  Especially, when rocket arm and accurate passers like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers have proven to be the protypical model for success in the NFL.  But, what I do know is, Tebow is a proven leader, that will succeed at whatever he does, commanding the respect of his peers.  And, Tebow is driven by a calling that is greater than his own, making him a great person and proven philanthropist for those in need.  What a great role model for aspiring athletes and young entrepreneurs, alike.

So, the key business lessons here, are that great leaders know how to: (i) find ways to overcome their own shortfallings, especially when it matters most; (ii) tune out their critics and believe in their own abilities; (iii) communicate with, and drive the best performance out of, their team; and, most importantly; (iv) they know how to win, regardless the odds or the headwind in their face.

For future lessons, please follow me at:  www.twitter.com/georgedeeb

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