Weekly Wrap: A Needed Leadership Lesson, Courtesy of Tim Tebow

I smile every time I hear someone bitch or gripe about Tim Tebow.

If you follow sports at all, you know what I am talking about because the success of Tim Tebow as quarterback of the Denver Broncos — he has led his team to an unlikely 4-1 record in games he started this season — has driven all the NFL experts and pundits absolutely bonkers.

As Sally Jenkins put it so nicely in The Washington Post:

Is there anything more gaily entertaining than the NFL establishment’s disregard for Tim Tebow ? Opponents insult him and analysts scoff, former coaches and players loiter on the sets of pregame shows in their wide-shouldered suits, issuing loud pronouncements only to eat their words. Tebow is a one-man Occupy movement, a squatter at the quarterback position for the Denver Broncos. Everyone knows he’s not supposed to be 3-1 (notewritten before last night’s win over the New York Jets), but how do you move this guy out?

“What gets us, what gets a lot of people is, you look at pro football and you don’t want to believe it,” ESPN’s Herman Edwards said.”

The problem with Tebow is that he doesn’t fit the mold of what the experts believe an NFL quarterback should be.

Breaking the NFL quarteback mold

He’s inexperienced, a second-year player with less than 10 career starts under his belt. He’s a terrible passer and seems to want to run rather than throw, which is usually a recipe for disaster in a throw-rather-than-run league with gigantic, incredibly fast defensive players who love to pound running quarterbacks info the turf.

Plus, Tebow is an unapologetic Christian who wears his religion on his sleeve and never misses an opportunity to thank the good Lord for his success even though it rubs some people the wrong way. The fact that he was a college star and won the Heisman Trophy while leading Florida to the national championship doesn’t seem to matter to the so-called experts, because they keep saying he isn’t a prototype NFL player much less a starting quarterback.

Funny thing is, Tebow keeps winning even though the way he wins is about as unconventional as it gets. And as he keeps on winning, a few of the pundits and experts are slowly starting to soften.

As The Wall Street Journal pointed out today in it’s Daily Fix blog:

Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow’s knack for leading his team to dramatic wins might have to do with him Just Being A Winner. The NFL Network’s Brad Nessler, among countless others, described him as “magical.” It also may owe much to some other factors — an improved defense, divine intervention, Denver’s recent diet of zombie-squad opponents, etc.— but it’s impossible to argue against Tebow’s penchant for the heroic…

“At this point, even the most extreme doubters have to be impressed,” Yahoo’s Doug Farrar writes. “Or, at the very least, willing to come off their perches for a second to take another look at the Tim Tebow phenomenon as more of a football matter and less a referendum on religion, politics, spirituality, and whether the ‘good guys’ really do win.”

Talent comes in all shapes, sizes and forms

Here’s the thing about Tebow, and the important lesson for every manager, executive, and anyone who handle talent: sometimes people surprise you, especially when they break out of the mold and change the paradigm of what you believe success looks like.

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In other words, talent — and leadership — comes in many different shapes, sizes, and forms.

If you get locked into believing that a leader must look and act a certain way, or have a certain kind of demeanor and experience, you’ll miss out on the unconventional person (or style) who can be equally (if not more) successful for you.

I know a little about this because despite the fact that I have been a successful leader all of my life, I have also had a number of bosses who grossly underestimated or outright dismissed the talents and skills I not only brought to the table but that I actually demonstrated to them first-hand. Yes, Tonnie, Chris, Tim, Todd, Jim, Sue, Phil, Larry and Pete  — none of you really appreciated what I was doing, and how much I was getting out of people, right under your nose.

The lesson of Tim Tebow is that the “experts” are frequently wrong about what works and that the unconventional often troubles us because it doesn’t square with our pre-determined notion of what leadership success looks like. If we aren’t willing to step back and challenge our preconceptions — really misconceptions about superior talent and how it manifests itself — we might miss seeing it standing right before our eyes.

I know that Tebow may still fail, but even if he does at some point, his success so far should simply remind us that a cookie-cutter approach to talent isn’t good for your organization or for the talent. Tebow is proving the pundits and experts wrong, and their sputtering and grudging acknowledgement of his success just goes to show you that sometimes the experts simply can’t see great talent when it stands right in front of them.

Workers fighting work on Thanksgiving

Of course, there’s more than Tim Tebow’s exploits in the news this week. Here are some other HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of HR and talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Workers resist Black Friday spreading to Thanksgiving Thursday. Early shopping hours for the big Thanksgiving weekend are not sitting well with some workers who resent having to work on the Thursday holiday. As this Associated Press story in The Miami Herald notes, “Count your blessings, then get to work.That may be Thanksgiving for more retail workers this year, as stores — desperate to pull in buyers on the first weekend of the holiday shopping season — push their openings earlier and earlier. Unhappy workers who say it ruins their Thanksgiving celebrations are trying to persuade companies to back off, but retailers say they’re stuck: It’s what customers want.”
  • Religious discrimination in the workplace. The Cleveland Plain-Dealer reports this week that, “The number of complaints… is steadily rising. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission statistics show that religious discrimination complaints in workplace settings have more than doubled from a little over a decade ago, resulting in roughly $10 million in settlements. Last year, nearly 3,800 were filed — 136 of them with the Cleveland EEOC office. “Religion has increasingly moved into the private sphere, so when it does pop up in the workplace, we’re less equipped to deal with it in a rational and even-handed manner,” said John Gordon, chairman of the religion department at Baldwin-Wallace College.”
  • Love your iPad? Well, touch-screen technology has moved to the time clock. It was only a matter of time before the iPad touch screen technology spread to other products. Kronos, the company that makes all manner of time and attendance systems, recently unveiled a new touch screen time clock “that is said to reshape the way organizations think about, and employees interact with, their workforce management solutions,” according to the website Ubergizmo. And as the Boston Globe points out, “An employee can manage a host of workplace services through the clock’s touch-screen terminal. He could check his schedule for next week, ask for time off, or request pizza from the company cafeteria and have the cost deducted from next week’s paycheck.”

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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