Denver Broncos rookie quarterback Tim Tebow has been everywhere lately. Tebow has crossed into American pop-culture this year because of his improbable win streak and public displays of his Christian faith. He wore a microphone during last Sunday’s game vs. Chicago; you can find excerpts from his game-time audio feed here.
I’m not a Bronco’s fan, but was amazed at how Tebow talked to his team, and even to his opponents.
Here are five lessons from Tim Tebow that business leaders can apply in their own environments.
1) One team, to the end.
At about the 1:00 mark on the audio, Tebow encourages, “Let’s stick together, all 60 minutes.” Reminding everyone as they head into football-battle to stick together as one team. No egos, no show boating, just one team. When Lou Gerstner became CEO of IBM, he was tasked with an historic turnaround. His motto was, “Win. Execute. Team.” The team element is critical in business to ensure that individual units work together and don’t become silos.
2) Be friendly with your competition.
At about the 1:25 mark in the audio, Tebow says to an opponent, “Good play man.” To the Bears’ Lance Briggs, he says “What up, Man? I’ve been looking forward to playing you.” These are players who are slamming Tebow to the ground. This is the team that is trying to defeat him. Coopetition is better than competition.
In my various businesses I’ve always built relationships with rivals and many turned into true friendships. It comes from my belief in abundance. You never know when there might be an opportunity to work together. I’m a fierce competitor when it comes to winning business and I’ve recruited top talent away from rivals, but it doesn’t have to be personal. Building relationship capital can be especially beneficial among your competitors.
3) In tough times, focus on the first step.
Things look bleak late in this game. Tebow settles his team by saying, “Let’s just focus on getting one first down…we’ll get the Mo (momentum) going.” He doesn’t want his team to get emotionally down. He doesn’t want them to focus on the long, tough rough ahead. He knows that games are won, one play at a time.
In late 1990s when I was a senior partner in Kenexa, our biggest client filed for bankruptcy and we faced a huge cash crisis. Despite everyone’s best efforts to manage our finances, it appeared we wouldn’t make the next payroll, which would kill the company. Our CFO almost broke down under the stress of the situation. Our CEO, Rudy Karsan calmly wrote a date on his white board: the date that we would run out of money completely. Rudy said, “Just focus on this date. We just to get one-day past this date, and then it will be alright. We can do it..” I still don’t know how they did it, but payroll was met, everyone survived, and it marked the beginning of a new Kenexa.
4) Don’t let your boss see you sweat.
At 2:35 in the audio, right after Tebow has taken a huge shot, a coach asks, “You alright?” Tebow delivers back flawlessly, “I’m fine. It didn’t phase me at all…He’s hurting more than I am.” Tebow isn’t just managing down, he’s managing up. He’s making sure his coaches are confident that he’s feeling good, and still the right person for the job.
This is a lesson it took me a long time to learn. I once thought being “emotionally honest” deepened my relationship with my boss and team members. I thought sharing all the problems was a way of being transparent. But there is a right way and a wrong way to do that. Get help when you need it, but too much emotion, and running every problem up the flag pole, will eventually send the signal that you might not be able to handle the demands of your position.
In my last company, several client service directors reported to me. One asked daily, “do you have a minute?” With red-faced stress he would tell me about the latest client who missed a deadline, or wouldn’t pay. With my open door policy and belief in coaching, I listened and helped. His peer was a young woman named Jen, who quietly went about her business and barely made a peep.
About once a month, she’d meet with me and say, “I need your advice on Client X…” Very rare, very professional. It wasn’t that she had better clients. But she knew her job was to problem solve and only escalate where necessary. Both directors were getting the job done – their success metrics were very similar – but Jen got the promotion (and the next one and the next one). She gave me confidence. She got it.
5) Shake off mistakes; emotionally support your team.
At the 2:50 mark, Tebow throws a bomb to Demaryius Thomas. This guaranteed touchdown goes right through Thomas’ hands. Instead of screaming at his teammate, Tebow puts his arm around a despondent Thomas and says, “Guess what, you’re about to catch the game winner here in a minute. So you’re good. No big deal. It just makes it closer a little bit longer. You’re about to catch the game winner and then you’ll be the hero of the game.” Thomas stands up and says, “Let’s do it.”
Even the best players occasionally make mistakes. Beating them up only shakes their confidence, or make them focus on avoiding mistakes rather than making great plays. Tebow knew the best thing he could do was to get Thomas’s mind off the last play, and ready for the next one.
Against Chicago, Denver was down 10-0 with only two minutes remaining. Improbably, the Broncos scored twice to tie the game, and then won in overtime 13-10. It’s debatable whether they won due to luck, faith, or skill–or most likely, some combination.
One thing is certain: Tebow’s approach can be as effective on the playing football field as it is in the corner office.
Kevin Kruse is a NY Times bestselling author and keynote speaker. Get more success and tips from his newsletter at kevinkruse.com and check out keynote video clips. His new book, Employee Engagement 2.0, teaches managers how to turn apathetic groups into emotionally committed teams.