With 7 Short Words, Tom Brady Just Taught a Dangerous Lesson in Leadership

This is a story about NFL quarterback Tom Brady and an important leadership lesson for your business.

In fact, it concerns two lessons, both of which have been shown recently, and one can easily conflict with the other.

It all stems from dwindling minutes from last week’s final regular season game between the Brady Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Carolina Panthers.

The Buccaneers won the match, exiting: 41 to 17. But what the game lacked in suspense, it made up for when we saw what happened between Brady and his teammate, by the end of Rob Gronkowski’s court.

“I need another one”

Gronkowski was “microphone busy” during the match, which means he had a microphone on his uniform.

As a result, we were able to capture this brief side exchange between his teammates, when the game is basically over except for the time ran out, and when you’d normally expect Brady and the other starters to be sitting out the rest of the way, rather than at risk of injury ahead of the playoffs that begin this weekend. :

Gronkowski: “Let’s go! I need another one!”
Brady: “Another problem?”
Gronkowski: Yes.

[Fist bump.]

Brady certainly stayed in the game – and responded aggressively to his coaches who wanted him sent off. He played long enough to throw another pass to Gronkowski, then was replaced by his backup.

Huh, what was going on? Simple economics, combined with leadership. Gronkowski’s contract, like many professional contracts, contains incentive clauses. between them:

  • A $500,000 bonus if he hits 750 yards off the season, and
  • Another $500,000 if he gets 55 catches.

As the final match approached, both goals were within sight, but not automatically. He needed 85 yards to hit the first goal, and seven touches for the second goal. Towards the end, during the above exchange, he hit the yardage cut-off for the first $500,000.

But he still fished again for the second $500,000 reward.

‘thank you dear. I had to bring you.

After the play, here’s the following mic exchange for Brady and Gronkowski:

Gronkowski: Tom! Good pass, dog!
Brady: Thank you, sweetheart. I had to bring you.
Gronkowski: Thank you. Thank you dog.

These seven words – ending with “I should have had you” sum it all up. It was the right thing to do in these circumstances, and it’s a reminder to always look for leaders who are attentive to the people around them.

(Brady did something similar to then-teammate Antonio Brown in the final last year, swept away by three receptions in the final minutes of the match until he racked up a $250,000 bonus.)

But, there is another lesson – one you can keep in mind as you praise Brady for doing what he did, while also considering whether a high-ranking leader might not have allowed this situation to develop in the first place.

Create additional incentives

It’s about thinking too much In depth about the types of incentives you agree with your key employees, choosing only consistent metrics Align with your ultimate goals.

Giving a major player like Gronkowski an incentive to get more catches and yards would probably go along with goals like winning another Super Bowl, or even just providing exciting games for fans.

But you also want to be very careful with all-or-nothing milestones, which can leave your main players with incentives at the end to do things that aren’t necessarily compatible anymore.

In fact, they can put a leader in a situation where doing the right thing for a team member is also dangerous for the organization.

For intelligence: chasing stats in the last moments of a match over, when that stat no longer aligns with the ultimate goal – especially when There is a non-zero risk of a superhero comeback or the chance of a key player being injured.

Fortunately for Bucs, none of those happen here. But, after quitting football, imagine you have a lead salesperson, who knows he or she has achieved a significant milestone or big bonus after selling 200 units in a year – but nothing for 199.

One can imagine that they offer much better deals on subsequent units as he or she approaches the magic number.

Or imagine you have delivery drivers who get a bounty that kicks in every time they drop off in 20 minutes – but they don’t get anything if it takes 21 minutes.

You can imagine the extra effort he might put in as he gets close to 19 or 20 minutes, along with the withdrawal that might come naturally if they knew they’d already missed the deadline.

One last example: a well-known airline created an incentive for its planes to take off on time, no matter what. But the pilots said the single-minded focus left them no discretion to do things that make sense to passengers, even if it results in departures a few minutes later.

So what is the solution? I think well-thought-out incentives should be included, but with a bias toward additional or marginal milestones, rather than big slopes.

Things like 50 percent off bonus sales at the 50 percent mark, with 10 percent steps above that. Or otherwise, fixing rewards to stats that someone averages, unlike a one-time teacher.

In the end, it just didn’t matter to Brady and Box. But, repeat this kind of scenario over and over again – with many salespeople, many drivers, many aircraft pilots and customers – and you can see how that poses a risk in the end.

This is why I love looking at sports for leadership and business lessons. Often things are very transparent, digital, and transferable. This is also why I wrote at length about Brady’s other driving lessons in my free e-book, Tom Brady Always Wins: 10 Success Lessons From Goats.

Scheduled update. But I’ll probably wait until after we see if Brady can lead the Buccaneers to a second consecutive Super Bowl, first. How’s that for an incentive?

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

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Sure enough, Brady stayed in the game--responding forcefully to his coaches who wanted to take him out. He played long enough to throw one more pass to Gronkowski, and was then replaced by his backup.

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So, what was going on? Simple economics, combined with leadership. Gronkowski's contract, like many pro contracts, contains incentive clauses. Among them: 

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  • A $500,000 bonus if he reached 750 receiving yards for the season, and 
  • t

  • Another $500,000 if he got up to 55 catches.

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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.

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

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'Thanks baby. I had to get you.'

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

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Gronkowski: Tom! Good pass, dog!
Brady: Thanks baby. I had to get you.
Gronkowski: Thank you. Thank you, dog.

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Those seven words--ending with "I had to get you" encapsulate it all. It was the right thing to do in the circumstance, and it's a reminder always to look for leaders who watch out for the people around them.

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(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.)

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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.

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Create incremental incentives

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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.

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Giving a key player like Gronkowski an incentive to get more catches and yards is likely aligned with goals like winning another Super Bowl, or even simply delivering exciting games for fans.

n

But, you also want to be very careful with all-or-nothing milestones, which can leave your key players with incentives at the end to do things that no longer necessarily align.

n

In fact, they can put a leader in a position where doing the right thing for a team member is also dangerous to the organization.

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To wit: chasing a stat in the waning moments of a game that is but over, when that statistic is no longer aligned with the ultimate goal--especially when there's a non-zero risk of either a miraculous comeback or some chance of injury to a key player.

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Fortunately for the Bucs, neither of those happened here. But, pulling back from football, imagine you have a key salesperson, who knows he or she hits a key milestone or cliff bonus after selling 200 units per year -- but nothing for 199.

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One can imagine them offering much better deals on the later units as he or she nears the magic number. 

n

Or, imagine you have delivery drivers who get a bonus that kicks in for each time they make a drop-off within 20 minutes -- but who get nothing if it takes them 21 minutes.

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You can imagine the extra effort they might make when they approach 19 or 20 minutes, along with the drop-off that might naturally come if they knew they'd already missed the deadline.

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A final example: a well-known airline created an incentive for its planes to take off on time, no matter what. But, its pilots said the single-minded focus left them with no discretion to do common sense things that benefitted passengers, even if it resulted in a departure a few minutes late.

n

So, what's the solution? I think it's to include well-thought-out incentives, but with a bias toward incremental or marginal milestones, instead of big cliffs.

n

Things like 50 percent of the sales bonus at the 50 percent mark, with 10 percent steps above that. Or else, anchoring bonuses to the statistics someone puts out on average, as opposed to the one-off milestone.

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In the end, it didn't really matter for Brady and the Bucs. But, repeat this kind of scenario over and over -- with many salespeople, many drivers, many airplane pilots and customers -- and you can see how it ultimately poses a risk.

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This is why I like looking at sports for leadership and business lessons. Things are often so transparent, numerical, and transferrable. It's also why I wrote at length about Brady's other leadership lessons in my free ebook, Tom Brady Always Wins: 10 Success Lessons From the GOAT.

n

It's due for an update. But maybe I'll wait until after we see whether Brady can lead the Buccaneers to a second consecutive Super Bowl, first. How's that for an incentive?

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