On the Way to the Super Bowl, Tom Brady Just Gave a Leadership Masterclass

Tom Brady is going to the Super Bowl for the 10th time–by far the most Super Bowl appearances of any player in history–after his team’s victory Sunday.

It’s pretty much indisputable now that Brady is the greatest football player of all time. (Hence the title of my free ebook, Tom Brady Always Wins: 10 Success Lessons From the GOAT, which you can download here.)

Granted on-the-field performance was mixed Sunday–a great first half followed by a less-than-stellar second half. But, what happened after the game provided a quick glimpse into why he’s so successful.

I’m talking about his post-game interview on the field, and how he ended it. 

At age 43 — oldest active player on a roster in the NFL, and in his first year with Tampa Bay after two decades and six Super Bowl victories with the New England Patriots — it was Brady with whom the media wanted to talk.

He took center stage for a few comments, of course. But then, it was Brady himself who ended the interview with seven short words: “Let’s bring some other people up here!” 

He meant his teammates, giving some of them a moment in the spotlight, and recognizing that very few people get the chance to reach the pinnacle of their sport, let alone to do it over and over as Brady has.

Look, if you’re a true football fan, there were a lot of storylines to pay attention to last night. And there are lot of players on Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers to pay attention to.

But, if you’re among the vast majority of Americans — and people around the world — for whom football is a passing interest at best, then it’s likely Brady is the only player you might have known in the game.  

Maybe you’d know Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay quarterback, but he only has one Super Bowl ring, to go against Brady’s nine trips, six rings, plus whatever happens two weeks from yesterday.

And yet, Brady knows better than anyone else that no single player, no matter how good he or she is, can win a football game alone — never mind, make it to the Super Bowl.

He expanded in another interview later, when asked what the keys to the game had been.

“Everyone stepped up to the challenge,” Brady said in a video interview. “Football is the ultimate team sport, and it takes everybody. Everybody plays a role. And I’m just so proud of this whole team and blessed to be a part of it.”

Not to lay it on too thick, but: team, team, team, team, team.

So, this is the point at which I want to step back and draw the lesson for business leaders.

It’s a clear one, but it’s also a lot of fun to explore. Because I hope you’ve had a lot of successes. I hope you’ve had the equivalent experience, in whatever field you’re in, of Brady being called to the 50-yard-line to offer perspective and bask in praise.

I also hope you’ve had the presence of mind, as Brady did, to deflect as much of the glory as you can, and instead insist that others on your team get the chance as well. 

It’s harder than it seems sometimes. I’m sure some leaders hesitate to share the limelight because of their insecurity. But, others do it because they worry about seeming insincere or cliched. 

The 100th time you’re standing up to celebrate wins and offer kudos, it can seem a bit rote. You’ve been here before. You’ve made a similar speech before.

But that doesn’t mean everyone else around you has had the experience. For some of your team members, this is their first time at the dance, maybe the only one they’ll get.

I’m reminded of a quote from Shakespeare’s The Tempest:

Miranda: “O brave new world / That has such people in’t!”
Prospero: “‘Tis new to thee.”

Miranda is sort of the butt of that joke in the play, but as a leader, you’re called to have the respect and courage to turn it around: Put the spotlight on everyone else, and let them bask in the joy and adulation.

‘Tis new to them, perhaps. Besides just being a good thing to do, I think Brady’s experience highlights a few other reasons.

First, because you need your team–and praising their accomplishments will inspire them a bit to contribute next time.

Second, because it makes them feel good.

Third, because as we’ve described above, they’re having a different experience than you are, and it might actually mean more to them.

Fourth, because your humility and grace in sharing the spotlight makes you more likable.

And finally–this one is like, double Jiujitsu leadership –because watching others get called out positively for their contributions can motivate those who didn’t contribute that much this time to do more later.

Regardless of why you do it, it works. But, don’t just take my word for it. Take it from the GOAT.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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