Leadership in the Form of Ray Lewis & Tim Tebow


by TC North, PhD and Stephen Walker, PhD

Who’d a thunk it? After starting the season with one win and four losses, Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos’ football team advanced to the second round of the NFL’s AFC Divisional Playoffs and were served notice that the New England Patriots intended to once again play in the SuperBowl as they were clearly outplayed.  That Tebow and the Broncos advanced that far was the talk of the NFL for several weeks.  The Patriots then played a game Baltimore Ravens squad led by long-time Pro-Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis.  The Ravens had their chances but fell short when a sure touchdown pass to Lee Evans was dropped and kicker Billy Cundiff hooked a 32 yard field goal missing the opportunity to send the game into overtime.

Ray Lewis: The Whole Package

Ray Lewis has a long history in the NFL.  He was reputed to be too small, too short to be a game maker at linebacker in the NFL.  The only one who didn’t buy that one…that would be Ray Lewis.  At only 6’1″ Lewis worked hard to build his body (now at 250 lbs) – his speed and his endurance.  To say that he has changed the position and changed the role of defense in the sport is an understatement.  Lewis has been elected to 13 Pro-Bowls in his storied career, he was the SuperBowl MVP in 2001, and has won the NFL’s Defensive Player-of-the-Year award twice in 2000 and 2003.

But what has been most remarkable about Lewis, is how he has matured as a person and a leader.  Following a Super Bowl XXXIV party in Atlanta on January 31, 2000, a fight broke out between Lewis and his companions and another group of people, resulting in the stabbing deaths of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar. Lewis and two companions, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting, were questioned by Atlanta police, and eleven days later the three men were indicted on murder and aggravated assault charges.  Lewis claimed that the prosecution knew he was not involved in the murder but chose to go ahead with the case anyway, saying, “You don’t care if I’m guilty or not. You gonna make sure I go to jail for life.” Lewis’ attorneys, Don Samuel and Ed Garland, of the Atlanta law firm Garland, Samuel & Loeb, negotiated a plea agreement with Howard, the Fulton County District Attorney, where the murder charges against Lewis were dismissed in exchange for his testimony against Oakley and Sweeting, and his guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice.  Lewis admitted that he gave a misleading statement to police on the morning after the killings. Superior Court Judge Alice D. Bonner sentenced Lewis to 12 months’ probation, the maximum sentence for a first-time offender.  Lewis was also fined $250,000 by the NFL, which was believed to be the highest fine levied against an NFL player for an infraction not involving substance abuse.

This event might have defined Lewis as a bonafide NFL “BAD BOY” – but he would have none of that.  Like Tebow, Lewis is a man whose strong Christian beliefs direct much of his conduct off the field.  His Ray Lewis 52 Foundation has done an incredible amount of work improving the lives and communities of thousands in the City of Baltimore.  He has been recognized by City Leaders, the Press and the NFL for his good works.  These efforts, his development as a player and complete person are reflected in this post-AFC Championship interview with Lewis:

As Brian Dodd observes in a most eloquent acknowledgment of how Lewis’s comments demonstrate his amazing development as a leader:

“Ray Lewis is the unquestioned leader of the Ravens and one of the great leaders in sports. The following are the quotes and lessons we can take from his post-game comments.  I gleaned 12 leadership principles that when practiced will help leaders better deal with disappointment and missed expectations.

Perspective – When asked was it your toughest loss ever, Lewis replied, “Absolutely not.  Been in this business too long to be the toughest loss ever.”

Define Current Reality – “Is it a tough loss?  Absolutely.”

Lift Others Up – “I take my hat off to my team.”

Understand Life Cycles Of Performance – “God has never made a mistake.  Ever.  Somebody’s gonna feel like this tomorrow.  Somebody’s gonna feel like this after the Super Bowl.  And whoever wins it, that’s their year.”

Trust God – “There’s a winner and there’s a loser.  And when you lose, you’ve got to suck it up a like a man and say, ‘Father, if it’s Your will, so be it.’”

Continual Improvement – “As a team, we’ve got to keep moving.  Keep building.  Keep building.  Keep building”

Be Thankful – “Life offers too much and every time you step on this field, it’s a true blessing.”

Desire Unity – “As a team, not one guy doubted is probably the most important thing we learned as a team.”

Confidence In Others – “Not one guy doubted Joe Flacco was going to move the ball down the field.”

Give Maximum Effort – “Our offense played their tail off.  Our team played their tail off.”

Respect The Opposition – “It’s the mutual respect of when you line up, you put your pants on one leg at a time, they knew they was gonna have to give us everything they got.  And we knew we were going to give them everything we got.”

Comfort Others – Regarding Billy Cundiff – “Not one play won or lost the game…There’s no one man that’s ever lost a game.  And for me to go to him which I will very quickly (and say), ‘Don’t you ever drop your head.  We win as a team.  We lose as a team.  There’s no Billy lost the game.  Billy missed the kick.  It happened.  Move on.  Move on very quickly.  As a man, because life doesn’t stop.”

Perspective, Define Current Reality, Lift Others Up, Understand Life Cycles, Trust God, Continually Improve, Be Thankful, Desire Unity, Have Confidence In Others, Give Maximum Effort, Respect Your Opposition, and Comfort Others.  As a leader, Lewis gives us a great model of how to practice these 12 principles during a time of great disappointment.”  Thanks Brian.

What About Tim Tebow?

Tebow’s story continues the controversy as it is reported that the Jacksonville Jaguars are seeking a trade the for their 7th pick in the upcoming draft and future considerations to bring the former Gator back to his home Florida. Bronco head coach John Fox is proving to be both a courageous and a strategically mindful leader.  By replacing incumbent Kyle Orton in week five with the “unproven and inaccurate” passing of quarterback Tim Tebow, Fox enjoyed the rapturous joy of some fans in addition to the chagrin of others.  John Elway, Director of Football operations for the club, has been non-committal about Tebow and prefers to reserve judgment at this time.  Given the fact that the Bronco fans have been starved for a competitive team for several years, the Playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers via Tebow’s 80 yard touchdown pass to Demeryius Thomas on the first play of overtime capped a tremendous comeback season for the team picked to finish in the basement of the AFC West Division.

Tebow Leading by Example:

Chris Charmicael, Lance Armstrong’s coach, used to preach, “Train your weakness, train your weakness, race your strengths.”  Fox is racing his strengths. He and offensive coordinator, Mike McCoy didn’t just change quarterbacks; they changed their whole offensive scheme to fit the strengths of his new quarterback!  As highly touted as Philadelphia’s Michael Vick is as a scrambling quarterback, he has nowhere near the strength and conditioning, much less the power of Tebow.  Mel Kiper, NFL draft analyst believed Tebow’s natural position in the pro game as an H-back/tight end combination.  Tebow’s strength showed as he blasted through the Pittsburgh vaunted defense for an 11 yard touchdown run up the middle in the second quarter.

Fox’s new offense maximizes the use of Tebow’s physical skills and it inserts him into a leadership position that makes use of his greatest strength. His mind. His beliefs. How he thinks. and his “Never say die” attitude. He has the same belief that John Elway had: If the game is close in the fourth quarter, it’s their game to win. And for both of these men, their belief was so strong that their attitudes gain traction.  Elway’s reputation became solidified when he led the Broncos on a 98 yard drive against Cleveland in the 1987 AFC Championship Game with less than 5 minutes to play.  Elway came into the huddle and said to his teammates with a big smile on his face, “We’ve got them right where we want them…and the rest is history – as his whole team believed it with him.

There is much we can learn from Tebow’s mindset. But first, let’s recognize the lessons we can learn from Fox:

  1. Be courageous. Fox had the courage to change quarterbacks and to change the whole offense to fit his new quarterback.
  2. Be willing to change a short-term strategy when your current strategy is failing. So often in business, we just work harder at implementing a failing strategy.
  3. Remove under-performers from a team, even when you like them. From what I know, Kyle Orton was a consummate professional who was liked and respected. But he seemed to lack the intangibles—the mental and emotional characteristics—to lead the Broncos to become a winning team.
  4. If you cut an under-performer who has good character, help him find a new job aligned with his strengths. The Broncos did this by releasing Orton rather than keeping him as a third-string quarterback. This was good for both the Broncos and for Orton, who is now playing with the Kansas City Chiefs.
  5. Recognize the intangibles in people.  Everything that raises the passion, commitment, courage and confidence of individuals and teams, resulting in higher performance would be characterized as ‘intangibles.’ Tebow has poor throwing mechanics but has inspired his whole team and raised its level of play. His attitude and his belief in the team’s ability to win have infected everyone—players and coaches and even the fans. Emotional intelligence is one of the great intangibles of life, business and sports; it separates great leaders from the rest.  All Tebow does is Win – and – bring the best out in his teammates.

 What are the characteristics that make Tebow a great leader?

  • Belief the team will win.
  • Work ethic. It’s been reported he works harder than anyone on the team.
  • Higher consciousness. He demonstrates this in two ways. One, he is the consummate team player, and two, he knows football is a game, and he has a higher purpose in life.
  • He has a fire, a passion that burns so hot that it affects everyone on the team.

That Lewis and Tebow illustrate the best in how emotional intelligence factors into being a highly effective leader is clear. In fact, the higher you climb in whatever your field of choice may be, the more important emotional intelligence becomes, until it actually overtakes technical knowledge as a success factor.

So, Broncos fans, let’s enjoy the quandary of the team’s success, and let’s learn the value of the intangibles from Fox and Tebow— emotional intelligence.  And in Baltimore, they are in good hands with great leadership and the kind of hunger championship teams must  have to reach the pinnacle of their success.


Dr. TC North is a high-performance executive coach and speaker who accelerates individuals and organizations to become high performers. For 25 years, he has coached business and sales leaders to create extraordinarily profitable, high-performing organizations that people love to work for. Dr. North has also trained a professional sports team, Olympic teams and numerous elite world-class athletes in the art of creating thoughts and emotions that maximize success. Additionally, he is certified in the EQi2.0 emotional intelligence assessment and he’s a professional speaker on “Top Success Secrets of World-Class Athletes and Business Leaders.” Dr. North’s work has been featured on TV and radio and in business and scientific journals. To learn more, visit his web site, http://www.tcnorth.com. You can reach him at 303-665-8920 or [email protected]


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