In 7 words, Tom Brady Just Taught A Dangerous Lesson on Smart Leadership

Actually, it’s about two lessons, both of which were on display recently, and one of which can easily contradict the other.It all stems from the waning minutes of last week’s final regular-season game between Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Carolina Panthers.The Buccaneers won the game, walking away: 41 to 17. But what the game lacked in suspense, it made up for when we…

Actually it’s about two lessons that were displayed recently and which can easily be contradicted by the other. It all began last week in the final regular-season match between Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers (#) and the Carolina Panthers (#).

The Buccaneers won the game, walking away: 41 to 17. The game was lacking in suspense but it made up with the drama between Brady and Rob Gronkowski.

‘I need one more’

Gronkowski was “mic’d up” during the game, meaning he literally had a microphone on his uniform.

As a result, we were able to catch this brief sideline exchange between the teammates, when the game was essentially over except for running out the clock, and when you’d normally expect that Brady and other starters might sit out the rest of the way, rather than run any risk of injury before the playoffs that begin this weekend:

Gronkowski: “Let’s go! I need one more! “
Brady : “One more catch?” “
Gronkowski: “Yeah. “

[Fist bump.]

Sure enough, Brady stayed in the game–responding forcefully to his coaches who wanted to take him out. His backup was then appointed. Brady played for enough time to throw one more pass towards Gronkowski.

So what was the problem? Simple economics combined with leadership. Like many pro contracts, Gronkowski’s contract contains incentives clauses. Among them:

  • A $500,000 bonus if he reached 750 receiving yards for the season, and
  • Another $500,000 if he got up to 55 catches.

Going into the last game, both goals were in sight, but not automatic. He needed 85 yards to reach the first goal, and seven catches for the second. Near the end, during the exchange above, he’d reached the yardage milestone for the first $500,000.

But, he still one more catch for the second $500,000 bonus.

‘Thanks baby. You were my only choice. ‘

After the play, here’s Brady and Gronkowski’s next mic’d up exchange:

Gronkowski: Tom! Good pass, dog!
Brady : Thank you baby. You were my only choice.
Gronkowski: Thank you. We are grateful, dog.

Those seven words–ending with “I had to get you” encapsulate it all. It was the right thing in the circumstances, and it’s a reminder to always look for leaders who care about the well-being of those around them.

(Brady did a similar thing for then-teammate Antonio Brown in the final game last year, shoveling him three receptions in the waning minutes of the game so he’d reach a $250,000 bonus. )

But, there’s another lesson–one that you can keep in mind while praising Brady for doing what he did, while also thinking about whether a higher-level leader might not have allowed this situation to develop in the first place.

Create incremental incentives

It has to do with thinking very deeply about the kinds of incentives you agree to with your key employees, and only picking metrics that consistently align with your ultimate goals. Giving Gronkowski, a key player, an incentive to catch more passes and yards will likely align with your ultimate goals. But, it is important to avoid setting all-or-nothing milestones that can cause your key players to give in to temptations to do things they don’t necessarily want.

In fact, they can

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