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Tim Tebow and Aaron Hernandez: How Many Touchdowns to Go as Leaders?

OK full disclosure: I live in Gainesville, Florida, the home of the Gators, my office is a half-mile from the University of Florida and on weekends I hear nothing else but Gator talk. Unfortunately I don't follow football.

But of course you can’t live in Gator-land without knowing about Tim Tebow and Aaron Hernandez, local boys (kind of) who at first looked like they made good and then kind of flopped, or possibly much, much worse.

So you get to thinking about things like childhood stars, washed up heroes and the like. What fascinates me is how two people with such early promise can move in the directions they have.

Of course, the contrasts are pretty obvious: although both from the same litter (sort of) as contemporaries at the University of Florida, they were enormously different in other ways: Tebow good guy, Hernandez in the slammer; one a saint the other the anti-hero; Yet the bad guy made a small fortune, the good guy received minimum wage (for a footballer anyhows).

Both were also entrepreneurs, in this case football entrepreneurs. Both had early promise. They were recruited by football’s equivalent of Silicon Valley (our very own University of Florida) - let’s call it Gator Alley for short. The scouts – Gator Alley’s equivalent of venture capitalists – did good and snagged two up—and-coming entrepreneur leaders.

Entrepreneur leaders are supposed to become the future equivalents of Mark Zuckerberg. In football that means good quarterbacks or utility players at a minimum. But these didn’t do either and maybe never will for wildly different reasons.

Is it possible for an entrepreneur to peak? Early on? Like in their 20s? Are our traditional models of entrepreneurship and leadership, that you usually get better at leading, actually wrong? That many entrepreneurs and leaders actually peak early and it’s all downhill from there?

Is there actually a model of entrepreneurial leadership anti-development in which certain people, maybe a lot or even most, get worse at leadership as they gain maturity and experience, rather than better? If so, what does that mean for leadership selection and development? How do you identify the people who are going to peak early and those who peak late versus those who never peak at all?

What would this mean for leadership of hot entrepreneurial companies? Or old dull and boring companies? Should we pick a 22 year-old whipper-snapper who hasn’t yet peaked but who will in a few years to lead Microsoft and then sunset him quickly?

Maybe Tebow will achieve his heart’s desire and become a big wheel in the NFL. The jury, literally, is out on Hernandez. But even if Tebow did well, would that make him the leader he was 5 years ago? Could he ever get leadership results in the future as distinct from being an also-ran (so to speak)?

Any more touchdowns left here?

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