Is Tim Tebow a Great Leader?

Much has been said about Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, whose come-from-behind victories during the 2011 NFL season have been chronicled far beyond the sports pages. The second-year player out of the University of Florida makes exceedingly public displays of his Christian faith. That bothers some people. But aside from that divisive issue, one important question about the Tebow saga carries significance for the business world:

Is Tim Tebow a great leader?

We all know that we can’t manage what we can’t measure. There are several ways to look at Tebow’s numbers: Quarterback rating is one way; Tebow falls below even the average score in the NFL. Passing yards, rushing yards, points scored: Same story. But what about his won/loss record? He won seven of his first games as a starter, after beginning the season as the team’s fourth-string quarterback.

Everyone loves a winner, whether in sports or business. Whether Tebow can continue his nearly miraculous run of comeback victories and march toward a Superbowl appearance remains to be seen. Certainly, his team’s defense is helping. A football cliché holds that “winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” But how one wins is important. Remember all those great home run hitters in baseball who turned out to be pumped up with steroids and hormones? Know any business executives whose companies have increased their bottom lines by laying off employees just to please shareholders, moving jobs overseas to save a few dollars, working people like slaves and polluting our air, water and soil? Not exactly role models, even if they do win. So winning doesn’t always equate to leadership.

I followed Tebow’s college career, even attending one of the Southeastern Conference championship games in which the young man drove his team to victory. [By the way, here’s my test to determine if you’re a southerner: When you hear or read the letters “SEC,” do you think of the Southeastern Conference or the Securities and Exchange Commission?] I was rooting for the other team that day. I didn’t like Tebow. Not sure if I do now. But you can’t deny that he has had remarkable success.

The fact Tim Tebow wears his faith on his sleeve, the fact that he kneels in prayer on national TV, the fact that he thanks God in sideline interviews--all these factors are not really illustrative of what’s going on in this drama. What’s going on is that Tebow is taking risks by exposing his heart and character to his teammates and by drawing attention—and pressure--away from them. When he bulls forward for three needed yards on third down, dragging tacklers with him, he is in effect telling them: “I can take whatever hits the other guys can provide. And you can too.”

Many coaches dislike Tebow because he is an “option” style player, which many football experts say works only in college ball. But the word “option” is a perfect one to describe Tebow phenomenon. It suggests that there are many ways to achieve goals. Everyone has a role. That role changes from play to play, and even during the few seconds of each play.

In business, that’s called agility. It’s called inspiration. It’s called engagement. It produces results. Sounds like leadership to me.

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