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How Character Builds Championships by Dr. Michele Fleming

The day after his 6th Super Bowl Championship, I was surprised to hear Tom Brady say he is more motivated by criticism than by compliments.  When asked about his reaction to being called the “G.O.A.T” (Greatest Of All Time), Brady said, “It makes me cringe.” With my coaching hat on (executive coaching that is), I heard an internal judge that had somehow bullied its subject on to greatness.  I had to explore more.

           Come to find out, Brady had spent his early years as “never the first guy chosen.” As a senior at the University of Michigan, he shared the quarterback position.  He just wasn’t consistent enough to secure the starting spot.  The following year, he was a 6th round draft choice and the 199th overall pick to become the Patriots’ back-up quarterback to Drew Bledsoe.  The only reason he was put in the game during the 2001 season was because Bledsoe was injured.  He won his first Super Bowl that year, and the rest is history.

            So, what happened? How did good, but not quite great enough, morph into the legend we now love (or hate)?  While at Michigan State, Brady struggled with not getting enough play time.  So, he hired a sports psychologist and met weekly with the assistant athletic director.  As an NFL back-up quarterback, Brady followed Bledsoe around, “soaking in everything he could.”  Brady saw the reality of his performance but, rather than letting his internal judge repeat its negative playlist, he reached out to others. He came under authority and learned from mentors.  Through that process, he claimed an adulthood position by improving the skills he wanted and taking the initiative to go after what was important to him.  The internal judge was tamed through relationships with others and lots of hard work.

            During the 2016 Super Bowl, after losing 28-3 in the third quarter, Brady forced the first OT in Super Bowl history to win the game 34-28.  Facing negative reality down the field to the end zone, his first passing play of the 2018 Super Bowl was an interception.  The first thing he said when he entered the huddle on the next possession was, “guys, I won’t do that again.”  That interception was inside his boundaries, his responsibility.  Taking ownership.  Avoiding blame.  Which, in turn, builds trust with his team.

            Brady has built a close working relationship with his team, and his internal judge.  His ability to learn from others, to take an adult stance, his use of boundaries, and facing negative realities drives him to nail-biting last-minute championship performances.  So, what does your internal judge want to prevent you from doing?  Bring others in.  Feel like you messed-up that last play?  Take ownership.  Face negative reality.  And, bring others in.  Looking for your next great coach?  Get in touch at michele.fleming@townsendleadership.com.

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