Tom Brady has long been referred to as the “GOAT” (Greatest Of All Time) for his unprecedented record of wins. He spent 20 seasons playing quarterback for the New England Patriots, leading the team to a record six Super Bowl victories.
In 2020, at age 43, Brady shocked the sports world by moving to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, one of the least successful franchises in NFL history. In just one season, Brady led a team that everyone had laughed off to a 31-9 Super Bowl victory against the previous year’s champion, the heavily favored Kansas City Chiefs.
Brady’s move this year allows greater visibility into his approach to leadership and building a winning culture. Typically when we see someone is creating dramatically, consistently better results than their peers, it won’t be explained by variance -- but rather by an approach that is more aligned with the true levers of success.
While the measure of quarterbacks is usually their throwing and turnover stats and their ability to pull off highlight-reel plays, we saw this year that Tom is playing a different game than anyone else with his job title. Of course it matters that he can still throw with power and accuracy. But Brady’s triumph came from making himself the team’s top recruiter and his intense, focused efforts to instill a winning culture.
Let’s take a look at some specific examples from this year.
He took responsibility for getting the right talent on the team.
There’s always debate about how much individual credit Brady deserves, compared to coaches and teammates.
But look at the facts. The Bucs’ four Super Bowl touchdowns were scored by three players (Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski, Antonio Brown, and Leonard Fournette) who Brady personally recruited to join the team.
He’s cultivated such a reputation for excellence that people will do anything to work with him.
After being released from the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier than expected, running back Fournette said, “The first guy that hit me when it happened was Tom [Brady]. I’ve [known] Tom and Tom hit me like, ‘Man, I would love for you to come help us out.’ And the first thing – who wouldn’t want to play with Tom?”
Gronk even came out of retirement, after being convinced by longtime partner Brady himself.
Then, of course, Brady had to deliver. You know Gronk doesn’t regret it after scoring two touchdowns in the Super Bowl.
He took responsibility for making his teammates see themselves as and perform like champions.
When teammate Lavonte David cried tears of joy in the locker room after winning the National Football Conference title, Brady infamously responded with, “What the (expletive) you crying for? We’re not done yet.”
Brady demanded nothing but the best, and it paid off.
The Bucs were the most penalized team in the league, but the fourth-least penalized this year. When you expect to win and play with the standards of a winner, it shows up in everything you do.
This type of change isn’t physical. It’s psychological.
Bucs coach Bruce Arians said, “[Brady’s] preparation was unbelievable, but his confidence and how it rubs off on the rest of the football team...he’s a winner, man. That’s all you can say. He brought a winning mentality to a really talented football team that didn’t know how to win.”
His leadership is also apparent in the things that didn’t happen this past year. All the egos and big personalities on an NFL team could easily cause the culture to curdle if not properly managed. Brady was able to get the most out of everyone on the team and advocate for his views without causing discontent among the players or coaches.
This expansive view of the quarterback’s role is the primary reason Brady has been able to demolish the record books. The legendarily strict diets and the plyometric regime can be a distraction from the fact that he succeeds because he takes responsibility for the whole team’s success, not just his own performance.
So the question for us is: how can we redefine our role to take more responsibility for the things that really matter - even when they’re outside our immediate job description?
Answer that, and while we might not be throwing the Lombardi Trophy from boat to boat in a Super Bowl victory parade, we’ll still be able to celebrate a lot more wins with our teams.
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