Career Advice: Professionals Can Learn About Success, Humility and Endurance from Tim Tebow

Despite his weaknesses, Tebow is winning over the hearts and minds in America. We love our underdogs, because most of us have our failings and weaknesses too. Our lives are full of the critics,... We just dont see our mistakes paraded around as publically or as often as Tim Tebow.

by / December 7, 2011

Technology and security careers are full of ups and downs - new opportunities and unexpected challenges.

Sometimes we work hard, succeed, accomplish a series of goals, get promoted and/or receive recognition. But what happens next? Friends, close colleagues and family tell us to stay humble, but that’s easier said than done. Dealing with success can actually be a difficult challenge. As I’ve written in other blogs, security professionals often have problems in this area at some point in their careers and may need a large helping of humble pie

Or, just when you think everything is falling into place and you’re succeeding, along comes a new mountain that you’re not prepared to climb. We face adversity or obstacles that can’t be overcome quickly, if at all. Perhaps, the rumor mill can be hard to stomach. Naysayers all around say that you will fail. Some may even call you names or make accusations you’d prefer to not repeat.

Ever overheard talk like: “You can’t possibly succeed at the next level.” Or, “He’s not a manager!” Or, “No doubt, she was successful last year, but she’s really dropped off lately.”

Do you give up? Do you understand that your career is more like a marathon than a sprint?

But while these concepts may be easy things to talk about in theory, genuine lessons are much harder to learn in real life. We want concrete examples. We look for role models - people who demonstrate the right character, behaviors and habits. We know that over 80% or more of our jobs revolve around people issues and not just technology or process change. So we ask: Who is doing the right things in life? Who is working through the good times and difficult times with class? Which brings us to today’s advice.

 I love sports, and I firmly believe that almost everyone can learn quite a bit from playing and watching sports. I’m talking about observing the good, the bad and the ugly from the players, coaches, the media and more – both on the field and off.

Since you’ve read the title of this article, you probably already know where I’m going next. But my perspective will probably surprise you. I’m not, historically, a Denver sports fan. The intriguing story about Tim Tebow is overflowing into “gather around the coffeepot” conversations around the nation for football addicts and non-fans alike. I never thought I’d be writing this article two months ago.

Nevertheless, I recently started watching Tim Tebow, the quarterback for the Denver Broncos – not just for his football skills – but for the way he deals with adversity and acts with humility and endurance despite the obstacles he is facing. I wanted to know: Why is Tebow such a controversial figure? Why does his story inspire or anger so many people? How can he respond so well to criticism? Can we do the similar things in our careers? How does he get going when the going gets tough?

As I analyzed what’s been going on recently, I've detected a few trends. This situation has developed into a David v Goliath story. If you prefer, Rocky Balboa versus Apollo Creed.  Or, the upbeat, humble boy battles the large, nasty empire. The underdog with flaws struggles against the powerful oppressor(s) with all the authority. Sound like a movie script?

NFL Football fan or not - Americans love this stuff. It’s what dreams (and great stories) are made of!  But this can’t possible go on for much longer in real life, can it?

Win or lose, I believe what I’m talking about can endure. But before I say why, let’s review a brief piece of recent NFL history.

Detroit Lions Rout Denver Broncos

The date was October 30 and the Chicago Tribune was just one of dozens of newspapers reporting the death of a Denver dream:

“Tim Tebow wasn't on one knee in prayer this time. He was on the ground in misery. The Detroit Lions (6-2) sacked Tebow seven times and turned his two turnovers into touchdowns as they snapped a two-game skid with a 45-10 victory over the Denver Broncos.”

USA Today hit even harder in their same day sports headline: Lions taunt Tebow, sack him seven times to beat Broncos.  “The NFL's own website billed it as Good vs. Evil, and as Ndamukong Suh said after the Detroit Lions blitzed, battered and mocked Tim Tebow, ‘Evil prevails.’”

As a frustrated Lions fan, I remember watching that game with mixed emotions. Sure, I enjoyed the lopsided Lions victory. I was glad that the Detroit was finally winning consistently. But something seemed wrong. The Lions were too arrogant, laughing and celebrating on the sidelines like they had too much to drink at the bar. Constantly mocking Tebow after frequent touchdowns and sacks seemed way over the top. No respect for the other side. I turned off the TV thinking, “Pride comes before a fall.” I was uncomfortable with this version of “success.”

That game had a strange effect on me. I had more respect and admiration for the losers – and how they handled the loss with class. Detroit’s new NFL “bad boys” with all the talent were too cocky. I had even less respect for their off the field comments and actions from players and coaches since. Something inside me said there negative consequences were coming for my Lions.

Tebow’s Comeback

Meanwhile, I started cheering for Tebow, the underdog with character, the following week. Before they had this winning streak going, I went back and reread Tebow’s SEC background. He was doubted at every level, from high school onwards, but he just kept working hard and winning. The guy has a great attitude that is contagious to those around him. He’s a true leader who’s overcome adversity at every level of his (brief) “career.”

Like many others around the country, I started keeping track of Denver as game after game the NFL experts and arm-chair quarterbacks mocked and laughed at their victories and his lack of ability. Still, he just remained kind, professional and humble. His interviews were appealing despite negative jibes – giving credit to everyone but himself. Saying he can’t control what others say, but he’ll just keep doing his best each week and try to improve.

Critics seemed to grow on trees. “Are you kidding me? He can’t play….” Few gave (or still give) him a serious chance to last as a quarterback in the NFL or Denver a chance to win their way into the playoffs. At the same time, the comments from many NFL fans were actually worse than the ESPN headlines shouting that Tebow can’t throw, Tebow can’t play quarterback and Denver can’t possible win the next game against … (whoever is next on the schedule.) But ongoing naysayer articles, expert analysis and doubter commentary are like fuel for “pro-Tebow” fire.

The nation seems hooked on Bronco interviews, postgame reports and replays of Tebow’s late-game heroics. Why? The intriguing thing for me has not been that they keep winning, but how much ridicule Tebow received after each game. Yes, he did certain things poorly during many games. But regardless of his mistakes on the field, the guy is just classy and forgiving about his harsh critics – admitting that he needs to improve. He smiles and acts – decent. He is proving his critics wrong by his actions and how he delivers in tough situations.

 I love the fun tone of this The Wall Street Journal article on What Tim Tebow Can’t Do:

“He cannot fly. He cannot see through walls. He cannot talk to the animals, not even cats. He's never picked up an automobile and tossed it across the road. He's failed to publish poetry in Russian. He can't explain Ryan Reynolds….”

The comments to that article show what one new fan thought. Paul Maurer wrote:

“Tim Tebow is the most talked about player in NFL because he brings a new passion to the game. His dedication to the sport is unrelenting. His character is impeccable. He is the best role model I have seen in a long time. We all need to start tebowing. I didn't even like football, but I watch the Broncos because I want him to win.”

Suh’s Troubles

Meanwhile, my Detroit Lions have played the part in this crazy script. Stomping on Packers and publicly denying any wrongdoing while we watched the replays. Ndamukong Suh appealed his recent two game suspensions for bad behavior – why? The suspension appeal was denied by the NFL.  Suh was forced to sit out as Detroit lost to New Orleans on Sunday night. Both teams are now 7-5 and seem to be going in opposite directions. Who would have thought this could happen six weeks ago?

No doubt, this David & Goliath analogy has several flaws. Despite the national urge to demonize Detroit, Tebow actually is battling other teams and other things - from disdain for his religious words to conventional wisdom to coaches to general managers to former players to expert analysts.  Still, he perseveres. I hesitate to hold him to too high a standard, because he will no doubt disappoint at some point in the future. But his actions to this date are nothing short of inspiring.

Where is this All this Going?

The Tebow story has not ended. In fact, he is just beginning his career. But regardless of what happens next on the field: we now have an excellent role model for young athletes, office professionals and executives alike. Yes, he will eventually lose. Perhaps Denver will miss the playoffs or lose in the first round. But I have little doubt that even when they lose, Tebow will show good character on and off the field.

I don't think losing (sometimes) will matter (much) to Tebow-mania. The funny thing is that as the media mocks his quarterback playing skills, they also lower the bar for him and lead to more people watching to see the results.  Bad games will be expected (because Goliath is supposed to win with more talent). Good games will be belittled as more one-offs that can’t be repeated next Sunday, (because the talent is lacking in David.)  

Are there better NFL teams than Denver? For sure. More skilled quarterbacks? No doubt.

But as for me, and a growing section of America, we will root for this underdog. I’ll take a humble, hard-working, teachable, improving person with good character and a positive attitude ahead of the more powerful, skillful, overly-proud, mocking professional with a bad attitude - almost every time. This is true in sports, for geeks at the office and in most areas of life.

Despite his weaknesses, Tebow is winning over the hearts and minds in America. We love our underdogs, because most of us have our failings and weaknesses too. Our lives are full of the critics. We all make mistakes, but we just don’t see them paraded around as publically or as often as Tim Tebow.

As a Lions fan, I never thought I’d be cheering for an opposing quarterback so much. But Tim Tebow is worth watching and emulating. He is humble. He has endurance. He improves. He has a great attitude, and what is lacking in his skills is more than made up for with his passion for helping others on and off the field. He is a (young) successful leader.

Character matters. We can all learn from Tebow – no matter what the Denver Broncos score is next Sunday.

Dan Lohrmann Chief Security Officer & Chief Strategist at Security Mentor Inc.

Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.

During his distinguished career, he has served global organizations in the public and private sectors in a variety of executive leadership capacities, receiving numerous national awards including: CSO of the Year, Public Official of the Year and Computerworld Premier 100 IT Leader.
Lohrmann led Michigan government’s cybersecurity and technology infrastructure teams from May 2002 to August 2014, including enterprisewide Chief Security Officer (CSO), Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) roles in Michigan.

He currently serves as the Chief Security Officer (CSO) and Chief Strategist for Security Mentor Inc. He is leading the development and implementation of Security Mentor’s industry-leading cyber training, consulting and workshops for end users, managers and executives in the public and private sectors. He has advised senior leaders at the White House, National Governors Association (NGA), National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO), U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), federal, state and local government agencies, Fortune 500 companies, small businesses and nonprofit institutions.

He has more than 30 years of experience in the computer industry, beginning his career with the National Security Agency. He worked for three years in England as a senior network engineer for Lockheed Martin (formerly Loral Aerospace) and for four years as a technical director for ManTech International in a US/UK military facility.

Lohrmann is the author of two books: Virtual Integrity: Faithfully Navigating the Brave New Web and BYOD for You: The Guide to Bring Your Own Device to Work. He has been a keynote speaker at global security and technology conferences from South Africa to Dubai and from Washington, D.C., to Moscow.

He holds a master's degree in computer science (CS) from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and a bachelor's degree in CS from Valparaiso University in Indiana.

Follow Lohrmann on Twitter at: @govcso