Author’s note: This article has an unabashed New England flavor. If the mere utterance of the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, Boston Bruins, Boston Marathon, Harvard, MIT, Mass General Hospital, or Boston Celtics is offensive to the reader, please be forewarned. It is my hope that through your distaste will emerge some crumbs of inspirationthat will propel your organization to higher levels of performance.
Tom Brady, the ageless quarterback of the New England Patriots, at 41, claims that “sustained peak performance isn’t about luck.” In his world, this longevity can only be found in the TB12 method – Brady’s lifestyle and fitness formula. He is a remarkable example of team leadership, savvy playing, and preparation and mention of the “TB12 method” has athletes and managers alike immediately working to divine the essence of this apparent winning, Ponce De Leon, Fountain of Youth secret. It is a great story.
The truth however is very real. This guy is ageing. The Patriots organization may keep winning but sad to say, Brady’s (and I dare say all of our) days are numbered. ESPN authors, Tom Junod and Seth Wicker reminded us in a detailed article on Brady’s career that
“Brady is fighting the oldest story in sports – an athlete getting old and playing past his prime, somehow hoping to avoid the inevitable.”
With this reality and for those students of business, we look deeper at Sears, Polaroid, Pan Am Airways, Arthur Anderson, and a host of others including Berkshire Hathaway, Southwest, and Amazon to look for repeatable messages that will keep us on track and moving into our golden years.
Brady provides us some interesting tidbits:
Your entire lifestyle – diet, sleep, strength, flexibility, and spiritual resilience – are all extra important as you age. In business terms, we need to prioritize core skills, innovation skills, interpersonal skills, teamwork and culture even when they don’t contribute directly to the work at hand – in order to continue on a path of success. Brady’s coach Belichick is said to utter
“You pay the price (for success) in advance” and his team mate: “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.”
This refers to the business lifestyle and working on the organization and is critical.
Brady tells us “I have been motivated to target and improve my deficiencies – and this is a more important consideration the older I get.” In a business setting, it is extra important to attempt to delegate the things that you once did well – that helped you get where you are – particularly as they fail to contribute as much to the overall success of your business as they once did. Leaders need to heed this lesson as do businesses with business practices and alliances that make you operate as if you were in the past and keep you from moving forward. Brady suggests that particularly as he has aged, he is less likely to compare himself to others but to look inward at strengths and weakness.
Don’t get sacked. The kiss of death to an ageing athlete or business is in taking a big hit. Experts acknowledge that Brady, in addition to being an incredibly astute student of the game, has well-tuned instincts and an awareness of both the field and his opposition that has helped him avoid injuries. Being in the market and aware of your workforce is something that takes effort and through this you can hone your business awareness skills.
Luck. All the naysayers on this topic paint the person and program with a broad and often messy ‘Luck’ brush. When success happens and however it happens, embrace, acknowledge it, and celebrate it. Pay it forward.
That all said, this will not continue to last and for many the objective is to build an immortal organization that stands the test of time – while not relying upon the skills and temperament of any one person. That is why, in a business sense, you can beat Brady.
Across town from Foxboro Stadium, the Patriot’s home, this past weekend was the Head of the Charles rowing regatta, one of the largest and most famous of such regattas, and a mecca for rowing enthusiasts from around the world, that saw 2,300 teams and over 10,000 participants -- and many older participants doing the ‘Old Folks Boogie’ over the arduous 3.2 mile course. What impressed this casual observer was that there were nearly 100 participants in the 70+ year old single scull rowing category but importantly an equally vibrant and motivated group of 50+ year old participants that eclipsed the performance of many of the younger collegiate participants… proving that on an individual basis we all have the opportunity to retard the ‘process’ and frighten away Father Time. Tom Brady has been a good example.
A similar spectacle will return in April of 2019 when a remarkable and growing set of ageing Boston Marathon participants will be making their way from Hopkinton to Boston in the 132nd running of this 26.2 mile race where we are again reminded of the immovable obstacle of time by the 1970’s band, Little Feat in their song Old Folks Boogie: “And you know that you're over the hill when your mind makes a promise that your body can’t fill, do’in the old folks boogie, and boogie we will, ‘cause to us the thought’s as good as the thrill.”
At the heart of all of this is the fact that individuals must focus on their individual ability to perform at a high and sustained level of peak performance, the businesses where they work must focus on the conditions that will allow them to perform at a high level of performance. The Boston Marathon, first run in 1897, has been the longest continually run running race in the United States. Without a well-run and welcoming institution that attracts the best and most athletic, its records from the past would not keep falling. It would lose its resilience.
Across town again, the Boston Red Sox, then the Boston Americans won the first World Series in 1903, 6 years after the start of the Marathon. They were able to win 5 times more and then entered the World Series desert for almost 100 years until 2014 when the team and the organization as a whole were reinvigorated with a winning purpose. This October as the Red Sox vie for yet another title, they are energized by a team of players including their pitching aces Chris Sale and David Price who could have played many other places but who came to the Red Sox organization because of its management and winning ways…and, in a chicken or egg equation, the Red Sox couldn’t have paid for these star players had they not “paid the price for success in advance”.
The great news is that an organization that focuses on its winning principles can be immortal and can put in place the conditions for success that will outlast individuals. That is the urgent job of management. So, YOU can be the GOAT.
Appreciate and nurture the talent you have. Understand their capabilities and listen.
Take frequent stock of your weaknesses and shore them up as long as you can
Invite young talent and give them the opportunity to succeed
Promote the type of diversity that will give you proper perspective on what is available
Train as a team doing things that strengthen the skills of the team
Celebrate wins – even be obnoxious about it
Be the organization where winners want to work
Never be ‘over the hill’. Embrace your longevity.