Unconventional Leaders: Why Your Sourcing Team Needs a Tim Tebow

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Nov 21, 2011
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

I think every sourcing team needs a Tim Tebow.

I’ve been a fan of Tebow since he was at the University of Florida. I cheered for him then, and I take great pleasure in cheering for him still — and not just because he is a Gator (like me), a Heisman trophy winner, and an all-around awesome guy. I cheer for him because while he was a winner in college, he’s a guy who isn’t “supposed” to win in the NFL — and yet he does. He’s the proverbial underdog that we all claim to want to see win. (Though popular opinion sure doesn’t seem to indicate that… but that’s a completely different article.)

So after the Denver Broncos’ record improved to 5-5 (4-1 with Tebow starting) with a win over the Jets this last Thursday, I was so pleased to read this fantastic article by my colleague, John Hollon about how Tebow is breaking the mold of what success and leadership is supposed to look like in the NFL.

Leadership, no matter what line of work you are currently in, doesn’t have to come in a certain package, a certain style, a certain look, or from a certain background. Hollon says,

“If you get locked into believing that a leader must look and act a certain way, or have a certain kind of demeanor and experience, you’ll miss out on the unconventional person (or style) who can be equally (if not more) successful for you.”

In order for this to happen, sometimes you have to change what you may not even realize is broken. Because it’s not broken — it’s just not as good as it could be. The Broncos realized this when they drafted Tebow. And I definitely think sourcing needs more of his type of unconventional leadership.

The Experts Don’t Always Know Best

In Hollon’s article, he says that new leaders surprise us when they break the mold of what leadership and success are supposed to look like. And it’s often the experts who are the worst at determining what it should look like:

“The lesson of Tim Tebow is that the “experts” are frequently wrong about what works and that the unconventional often troubles us because it doesn’t square with our pre-determined notion of what leadership success looks like. If we aren’t willing to step back and challenge our preconceptions — really misconceptions about superior talent and how it manifests itself — we might miss seeing it standing right before our eyes.”

While the experts in this case have been bashing him since day 1 (and many continue to do so), Tebow continues to pursue his passion and work harder than anyone else to be successful. The truth is — expert opinion will not stop a winner from winning or a leader from pressing forth to more success.

When you’re building or expanding your sourcing function, definitely seek advice from experts in the business, but know ultimately that what your team needs is unique to you, your team, and your company Also, it is vital that you encourage your team to win — don’t discourage them from being innovative or expect them to lose (and if you do, perhaps you should take a hard look at your own hiring practices). And sometimes this means having to be flexible in your organizational process in order to encourage and cultivate leaders.

If It Ain’t Broke… There’s Still Probably A Better Way

A few years ago, I wrote an article that I hoped would open some eyes to the idea that just because something isn’t ‘broken’ doesn’t mean it couldn’t use some improvements. Just because something works well now does not mean it couldn’t work even better with some changes. In that article I quoted Carmine Coyote, author of the now-discontinued blog called ‘Slow Leadership’:

“Change is more about letting go of old ideas than finding new ones. Most of the time, people are sufficiently happy with the way things are, so they see no need to change. Life may not be perfect, but it’s good enough; the effort and uncertainty change brings look too great to be worth it. That’s why the moments when you’re open to change are precious. Miss them and your life and growth goes back on indefinite hold. Seize them and you have moments of infinite preciousness, when your mind is open to new ideas and fresh perspectives.”

Jim Collins wrote an excellent book called “Good To Great” that discusses not settling for just ‘good enough.’ The Broncos knew they needed to make some changes to improve their record from the last several years. They saw value in Tebow, even though his style didn’t seem to ‘fit’ into the NFL’s established system of successful quarterbacking. So in order to accommodate the leadership they knew he would bring, they willingly changed their existing system to fit his strengths, going 180 degrees in the opposite direction of decades of football strategy that had worked.

When’s the last time you made changes to the way you manage your team to accommodate the strengths of a new leader, instead of requiring that they change everything that has made them successful to conform to your model?

Making Changes Isn’t Always Pretty

The very nature of change means that things are going to be different. And different isn’t always beautiful — but it is necessary for progress. Whether you’re a Tebow fan or not, you cannot deny that his wins are quite often ugly. Often they are heavily accomplished by the defense, as well. But pretty or not, they are still tick marks in the “W” column.

Winning often means making unpopular choices. It often means risking hurt feelings, making assignment adjustments, or making people uncomfortable by trying something completely foreign to the way things have always been done. It may even mean taking on more work than usual for a period of time in order to prove the value of a new way of doing things. In sourcing especially, it may mean taking more responsibility for things that were previously outside of your scope of work in order to partner with others on your team as a more cohesive unit.

Sourcing needs more Tim Tebows — unconventional leaders that may stir the pot a little but who ultimately bring about results. Let’s face it: regardless of how you look at it, there is no cookie-cutter mold for leadership — sometimes it looks exactly like what we’d expect. Other times it’s ugly, yet determined to win. And sometimes, it’s just downright unconventional, against all odds, and still inspires and brings forth the best in everyone. Find your Tebow and bring some wins to your sourcing!

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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