Big Ideas & 'Best Of'

The ‘Kaepernick Factor’

Have you heard about the “Kaepernick Factor?”

I’m going to guess “No” — in part, because I may have just made it up.

Colin Kaepernick is the new starting quarterback of the surging San Francisco 49ers.

As a 24-year old who has been thrust to the forefront of a Super Bowl contender, he has won his first two NFL starts — leading his team to big wins over the Saints and Bears in back-to-back weeks.

Kaepernick got his big break when Alex Smith, the overall #1 pick from the 2005 draft, got injured during the 49ers win over the St. Louis Rams on Nov. 11th.

Although Smith has been cleared to play, Kaepernick continues to look like the Niners new leading man.

And before this starts to sound too much like a guest post for ESPN, let me tell you what I think any of this matters to you — and the young, aspiring leaders you serve…

Here are five lessons I’ve gleaned from watching the unexpected rise of Kaepernick in San Fran:

Don’t let your current position define you

Colin Kaepernick was the “back-up” quarterback.

He could have allowed that to define him, his expectations, and therefore his work ethic.

Sure, he would have had to maintained a certain level at his position — in order to keep it — but he probably could have gotten away with giving less than 100%.

He could have allowed himself to think “second chair,” or “second fiddle,” and consequently struggled when thrust into his new starting role.

He could have… but he didn’t.

He didn’t see himself as a bench-warmer, but a future starter — or a starter, waiting for the change to start.

Don’t let your current position limit you

Kaepernick could have allowed himself to think that “back-up” was his future — all he would ever amount to.

He could have assumed that, aside from filling in for Smith occasionally, that he would rarely see the field during game time — because he was backing up a successful quarterback on a winning team.

He could have allowed himself to believe that he had hit his glass ceiling — at least for the foreseeable future — and therefore never allowed himself to dream of his own leading role.

He could have — but he didn’t.

Do your best  — everyday

Kaepernick practiced hard, worked hard in the weight room, and was a student of his team and the game.

He brought his best everyday — even if it was only to the 2nd string offensive unit — when coaches were primarily focused on the 1st string defense.

I’m sure the coaches took notice of him — but you typically don’t mess with a system that working as well as the Niners have been over the past couple of years.

That reality didn’t change Colin’s day-to-day effort.

He brought his best to work — everyday.

Do good work — and people will take notice

Again, the coaches were aware of some of the gifts and talents that Kaepernick possessed. That’s why they drafted him in 2011.

The coaches believed that Kaepernick was a part of the Niners future — at least in some form or fashion.

They believed that he would be able to step in for Alex Smith if there was a need for it — and that the team would be OK.

And I’m sure that his teammates had seen his work ethic and athleticism as well…which would have given them some level of confidence we he entered the game during the Rams after Smith was knocked out.

Make the most of every opportunity you get

One never know when their going to get their big change. Rarely are things so clearly defined that anyone knows when their BIG break will occur.

For the vast majority of us, it just happens.

And we’re either ready — or not.

Kaepernick was ready.

He had been training for much of his life as if this opportunity was a foregone conclusion. An inevitability. A guarantee.

But it wasn’t.

And yet, because he was ready, it looks like his ability to make the most of his opportunity has yielded him the chance of a lifetime.

And while it remains to be seen where, exactly, Kaepernick will ultimately lead the Niners this season — one thing is certain, he is reaping what he has sown in all five of the areas mentioned above.

QUESTION: What’s the hardest part about being a young leader (or working with young leaders)? Where do you find the biggest struggle?


  • Brooks

    1. I’m a 49ers fan so thanks.
    2. great word especially when on a church staff. College Minister doesn’t get much of the glory usually so it’s easy to be impatient or get envious of others in the light.

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