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Leadership and NFL Quarterbacks – Taking Too Much of the Credit?

I am lucky to live in Denver for many reasons, but it especially gives me a great perspective on today’s topic: NFL Quarterbacks who get too much credit for team success. You see, I live in “The Land of Tebow”.

This isn’t just a local phenomenon. I recently flew to Seattle, and I tuned in to ESPN and ESPN2 on the flight. The flight took close to 3 hours, and I think I found 2 1/2 hours of coverage regarding the Tim Tebow Phenomenon. Let’s review some of the highlights:

  • Denver was a 1-4 team under Kyle Orton. They have since gone 7-1 under Tim Tebow
  • In the most recent game against the Chicago Bears, Tebow was 3-16 for 45 yards, an interception and a quarterback rating of 13.5. In the 4th quarter, he was 15-20 for 163 yards, a touchdown and a 115.2 quarterback rating. This Bringing the It Factor seems to happen weekly.
  • In six of the most recent wins, the Denver Broncos were trailing in the fourth quarter. They required near flawless execution from a quarterback who generally performed miserably in the previous three quarters of the game.

The sports talk shows generally have at least one voice of reason that points out important factors that contribute to the Denver Broncos wins besides Tim Tebow:

  • The Denver Broncos now lead the league in rushing yards per game.
  • The Denver Broncos have a much more healthy and opportunistic defense than they had at the start of the season.
  • The combination of a great rushing attack and stout defense makes the game “shorter” and keeps the score low and within reach for “Tebow magic” in the 4th quarter.
  • The Denver Broncos have one of the best tandems of kicker/punter in the game today. In fact, the kicker had to make a 59 yard field goal to get into overtime followed by a 51 yard field goal to win the most recent game.

To Tebow’s credit, he always deflects praise. He makes sure to point out that it is a team game. He gives credit to defense, special teams, the running game, and a great offensive line (see the picture above which is also linked to a nice article). Put succinctly: Tebow is making all the right moves as a selfless and inspirational leader.

I recently read a great blog post by a friend and fellow 12Most author: Daniel Newman. He wrote about Leaders: Give Credit Not Blame. I am also a big fan of Good to Great by Jim Collins. Both of these authors point out the importance of leaders giving credit to their teammates/employees versus getting caught up reading their own press clippings. The great leaders are also willing to shoulder more of the blame. Jim Collins provides an excellent visual aid to separate a charismatic leader from a “Level 5″ leader. To paraphrase:

Level 5 leaders look out of the window to give credit to their people for success. These leaders look in the mirror to accept responsibility for failures or under-performance. In contrast, charismatic leaders that do not make it to Level 5 have a tendency to look through the window to blame external factors for lack of success. They look in the mirror (and perhaps preen and read press clippings) when they have success.

After some honest self-assessment, ask yourself the questions:

  • What kind of leader am I?
  • Do I give credit to my teammates, or do I soak up the praise alone?
  • Do I honestly think I can “go it alone” and succeed with no help from others?
  • Do I immediately point fingers or try to place blame on other people or “factors beyond my control” when plans get derailed?
  • What steps can I take to become a better leader? And believe me, we can all use improvement!

I would love to see your comments! Have you been blessed as a Level 5 leader? Or perhaps you’ve had the benefit of working for a Level 5 leader. What trait did you respect the most from this leader? Are we watching a natural Level 5 leader grow up before our eyes in Tim Tebow?

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Brian Vickery

I love my Vickery Girls - and grandsons! My career has blessed me to the point I was able to start a new consultancy in 2018: Analytic Integrity. I look to provide analytic experience, and business integrity, to an Analytics world while helping data-driven organizations mature. I enjoy teaching and coaching, watching football and basketball, and playing tennis. I graduated UT-Austin.

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  1. Tebow is the kind of sport hero I grew up with like Sandy Koufax. So sad that he is such a rare treat these days, BV!

    • Definitely rare, Bruce. The more I think about it, the more I think there was a healthy collection of Level 5 leaders in that 12 Most Awesome QB list I came up with. Tebow, Rodgers, Brees, Brady, Manning etc. Some are just great, inspiring, gifted athletes and leaders. The rarest of all add a selfless grace. Tebow is young, but I see the potential!

  2. Tebow is quite the phenomenon. I’ll be watching this develop for sure…

    As for leadership, I don’t know that I’ll ever make it to Level 5. I’ve just watched myself make too many mistakes and take too much credit sometimes. Especially as times get tough, it feels good to be the star quarterback once in a while.

    I’m working on it…we’ll see how it goes.

    • Of course we are made better from our mistakes…as long as we don’t try to push them off on others. And part of what makes a Level 5 is not feeling like you are worth such praise.

      As an 8PM warrior, the work ethic is definitely there. Now it comes down to successes and bringing out the best in others so you can “scale”. Then celebrate their multitude of successes!

      Thanks for the comment, Aaron.

  3. Awesone post, Brian, and great example of leadership! The quarterback is the front man of the rock band–the one who gets the most attention from the public. But he is also more dependent on others for his success than any other member of the team. Level 5 leaders are the same way. The higher you are, the more dependent you are on those “beneath” you.

    • Thanks for stopping by with the comments, Doug. I agree that the higher you are the more dependent you are upon a bigger team. It is also important that you no longer measure yourself based upon individual successes. You should measure by company success and the individual successes of the people for whom you are responsible.

  4. Brian, excellent post on leadership! The QB is or should be the leader of the offense, if not the entire team. Way back, thinking, 1982, Norton was QB, losing season. Then a rookie was given the starting QB, everything changed. Credit was given and blame or fault was his. This season reminds me of 1982, just different QBs! Think Broncos were called, Come Back Kids, Cartiact Kids… Because of all the 4th quarter or OT wins.

    • Glad you liked it, Denise. Of course, we are both rooting for those Denver Broncos, and Tim Tebow is an easy kid to root for. As he gets more accurate, that play action deep ball to Decker and Thomas will come into play more!

      Thanks for stopping by…


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