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What Tom Brady Can Teach Us About Leadership

Instead of answering questions from reporters, Brady looked for his teammates to say this one thing.

ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 03:  Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots and teammate Tom Brady #12 celebrate at the end of the Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on February 3, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. The New England Patriots defeat the Los Angeles Rams 13-3.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 03: Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots and teammate Tom Brady #12 celebrate at the end of the Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on February 3, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. The New England Patriots defeat the Los Angeles Rams 13-3. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Tom Brady, the quarterback of the New England Patriots, helped bring glory to his football team for the sixth time since 2002 at last night’s Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, Georgia. Brady has been team captain since the aughts, too — a testament to his savvy and ability as both an athlete and a leader. And while some of his prowess (like his throw) can’t be copied, his leadership style is something we can all learn from.

Let’s look at the moments following the Patriots’ win last night. As blue and red confetti fluttered from the stadium’s canopy, and reporters and photographers stampeded to his side, Brady was insistent on finding his teammates, other players, and colleagues, like Robert Kraft, the team’s owner, to exchange candid words of gratitude.

“Love you man. Love you. You had an unbelievable year,” he said to Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks. His moment with Kraft is mostly inaudible, but the image of the two holding each other, foreheads touching, speaks a thousand words of affection. And then there’s his embrace with New England Patriots wide receiver and the game’s MVP, Julian Edelman. Edelman, who is 5’ 10″ to Brady’s 6’ 4″, burrowed his head into the quarterback’s shoulder, and as they released their hug, Brady pats the top of his head and says, “I love you, dude.”

Clearly, he’s a man who leads with compassion, candor, and gratitude — he’s unafraid to be truly open with how he feels about his colleagues (and even his competitors), and he takes the time to offer his appreciation for their help. The effect of his style on the people in his sphere is significant. “He has helped me so much. He has been a huge part of mentally kind of coaching me up just through his actions and how he is as a football player, as a professional, as a father, and as a family man. It is an honor to get to play with a guy like that,” Edelman said after the game.

Art Kleiner, coauthor of The Wise Advocate: The Inner Voice of Strategic Leadership and author of The Age of Heretics: A History of the Radical Thinkers Who Reinvented Corporate Management, says that the most effective leaders try to anticipate what their followers are feeling, or what they’re going to do next, rather than simply trying to guide them or please them. Tom Brady, he says, “having just led the Patriots through this intense victory,” would know what the other players were feeling, and “saying ‘I love you’ would come right out of that knowledge.”

Kleiner adds that the most memorable leaders come from a place of authentic empathy — one that’s dismantled from incentives or ulterior motivations. “It’s genuine,” he says, “and it starts with thinking about others and what they’re likely to do next.” While most of us aren’t likely to win repeat Super Bowl victories like Tom Brady, there are things within our locus of control we can do to emulate his greatness. For starters, we can practice his kind of clear, compassionate leadership toward our peers, and in turn, become more evolved as managers, co-workers, and friends.

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