Will the Real Tim Tebow Please Stand Up!

“It is better to be hated for what you are than loved for what you are not.”  –   Andre Gide (1869-1951)

“I just wanted to show character. You just continue to fight, and it doesn’t change who you are, who you play, how you go out there. You should be the same at all times. I am going to be the same player and I will always give everything I have. Because that’s all I have to give.”  –  Tim Tebow (2012)

What is it about Tim Tebow, the quarterback of the Denver Broncos, that draws so much attention?  It seems people either love or hate his public displays of Christian piety . . . nothing in between! The Tebow phenomenon was built during a six-game winning streak — three of them in overtime. After every touchdown, the quarterback prayerfully drops to his knee in front of millions of viewers.  Twitter reported there were more tweets per second (9,420) after his overtime touchdown pass against the Pittsburg Steelers than any other event, including the royal wedding and the death of Osama bin Laden!

Tebow’s name recently popped up on the Washington Post’s list of the 12 best leaders in 2011, next to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs.  Forbes magazine recently ran an article describing Tebow’s ability to inspire teamwork, his sportsmanship, his respect for his fellow competitors, and his unwavering support of his teammates. Without attempting to draw any eerie conclusions concerning the Broncos’ unexpected victories and the team’s numerous play-off statistical coincidences associated with their quarterback’s favorite biblical verse (John 3:16), it would be safe to say that Tim Tebow is a classic case study of the difficulties experienced by “authentic” leaders.

Frankly Speaking

Timothy Tebow is a professional football quarterback drafted by the Denver Broncos in 2010.  He played college football for the University of Florida where he rushed and passed for 20 or more touchdowns in a single season.  He was the first college sophomore to receive the Heisman Trophy.

Most pundits insist that mixing football with religion is what makes Tebow a lightning rod for controversy.  But a nagging question remains: is it possible – or even ethical – for a leader to conceal his core worldview values and remain authentic? What makes the display of spiritual values less appropriate than the public expressions of political or profit-centered ideologies? What is the harm in allowing the marketplace of ideas to focus on God as well as Nike?

According to the French Nobel prize winning author and poet, Andre Gide (1869-1951), leadership is not something we simply do but a reflection of who we are.  Confucius  (551BC-479BC) likewise asserts that only those who are “absolutely their true selves in this world can have pervading influence.” It stands to reason, therefore, that authentic leadership is the intimate expression of who we are.  At its deepest level, leadership is an authentic self-expression of our being in action that creates value.

The following is a partial list of ten personal characteristics associated with authentic leadership.

  1. Integrity
  2. Creativity
  3. Attentiveness
  4. Compassion
  5. Peacemaking
  6. Trustworthiness
  7. Honesty
  8. Humility
  9. Servant-centeredness
  10. Inspirational

Perhaps these are the qualities that football fans essentially require from all of their leaders, irrespective if their influence extends to the gridirons of business and politics. A dose of integrity and authentic humility instead of forged identities and self-centered indiscretions are most welcome. Whether you agree with his convictions or not, maybe, just maybe, it’s Tebow’s authentic leadership that so many viewers are unconsciously drawn to.

Authenticity is a sensitive subject for many leaders who readily admit that they lack integrity in various parts of their personal as well as professional lives.  Integrity entails much more than truth telling.  It requires the congruence between who we are, our core values, and what we do.

Authentic leaders are not afraid to acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses to others. Equipped with these insights, authentic leaders understand that satisfaction and effectiveness in life and work are highly correlated. They recognize the importance of expressing their authentic self while doing what they love and do well.

As a leader’s true voice, authenticity is a formidable goalpost worthy of lifetime pursuit.  In the end, this is where the “real” Tim Tebow stands tallest – when he falls to one knee!  This is a “play” that students of authentic leadership might consider emulating!

Dr. Frank Marangos is CEO and Founder of OINOS Educational Consulting. He received a Doctors Degree in Adult Education (Ed.D.) from NOVA Southeastern University (Ft. Lauderdale, FL) and a Doctorate in Ministry and Childhood Education (D.Min.) from Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX). He is also a Certified Charitable Estate Planner (FCEP).

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