What Do Tom Brady and Effective Law Firm Leaders Have in Common?

Not a powerful arm!  I think we can agree on that.  After watching Tom Brady march the New England Patriots down the field last weekend to beat the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime and assure yet another Super Bowl appearance, it surely is not the arm.  Brady has it.  Law firm leaders do not.  Most law firm leaders are large part couch potato and small part athlete.  To hear them tell it, there is just not enough time in the day to increase PPP and work out, too, and that sounds very plausible.

As it turns out, the similarities between Tom Brady and effective law firm leaders have little to do with football and a lot more to do with leadership skills.  If you are thinking that someone in a stratosphere like Brady’s has little concern for juniors, you would be wrong.   And if you think that having reached 41 years of age, Tom has no time for the youth of the game, you would be even more wrong.

According to a recent article in the Washington Post, Brady really works at leadership, and that is why he is so successful at the helm of a national championship team.  It appears that he takes nothing for granted.  He seeks out young teammates and introduces himself to them — yes, the great Tom Brady introduces himself to rookie players.  And those rookies are typically 20 years his junior and could so easily be ignored by someone of his caliber.

Brady reportedly not only engages his juniors in conversation, he learns their names and talks to them in their own language and about things that matter to them.  He “builds team chemistry and does not allow the stature he has to distance himself from everybody.”

Wow!  What a refreshing concept.  It seems to me that it would work well at law firms.

Many of the junior players in Brady’s life are millennials.  I write a lot about millennials as lawyers, and I know how important recognition and acknowledgement are to them. Generational differences in the workplace can be real impediments to esprit de corps — unless we don’t let them be.

So Brady has learned something that many law firm leaders have yet to master.  Do not disregard and isolate the juniors.  Engage them in conversation and really listen to their thoughts.  Treat them with respect.  Let them know that they are important to the future of your organization.

And how about Brady ignoring the question in the post game interview to thank all the people who support him every day and help make him great — from his wife and kids to team owners to fans?  It was classic and very classy.  Remember who brought you along.

We all have seen this in other sports leaders, of course.  The list is long, but one of my favorites is Tony Bennett, coach of the University of Virginia Cavaliers basketball team.  I am a little partial because I love UVA as the undergraduate alma mater of my kids and also because Bennett’s dad, Dick Bennett, coached the University of Wisconsin basketball team for years — and I am a proud UW Badger fan.  I have loved watching the father teach the son and pass on wisdom through sport.

One moment stands out for me.  Several years ago, I was watching the sideline huddle between Tony Bennett and his UVA players when something amazing happened.  One of the players made a comment, and Bennett stopped what he was saying and motioned for the player to continue speaking — to explain himself.  To take center stage because the player had something important to contribute.  To take over for the coach because it is not all about who gets the credit.  It is about being a team and playing the best game possible.

As usual, sports has a lot to teach us about life.  I hope that law firm leaders are listening and learning.





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