Everybody has a Brady
Admittedly, I am a Tom Brady fan.
But this is not about the Patriot’s Tom Brady – it is about the Tom Brady in your organization. Everyone has one or two. The better they perform the more you are dependent on them. They are great and that greatness is accompanied by leadership and retention challenges. However, before I get to your Brady I need to open with an important point.
Everyone Is Not Great At Work
It’s OK to acknowledge the unacknowledgeable from time to time.
To date, no one has quarterbacked like the Patriot’s Tom Brady. Similarly, many people don’t have the same level of intelligence, skill and drive as your organization’s Tom Brady. There are leadership gurus that tell us everyone can be a Patriot’s level Tom Brady if they are only properly equipped, supported, and purchase a $495.00 course.
Cut from the Team
Well, if that is the case why is my basketball game not as good as Michael Jordan’s? I tried. I practiced, ran, bought the right shoes and attended a skills workshop over the summer. I got cut. And not the “we believe in you…see you next fall kid” type of cut…it was the look at the chart openly posted in the hallway and being on the list labeled “CUT”. I am not a good basketball player.
Don’t Flip Out
As someone who has served as a COO of a large nonprofit with thousands of employees and a university with hundreds, I can assure you that intelligence, skill, and drive has not been distributed equally. I am not being mean. I am just trying to move the ball down the field for my organization and that requires accepting reality.
Don’t flip out. I believe that most employees can be great in their position and if properly developed many can be promoted, and perhaps all the way to the top. Before I led in an operations role, I was in an entry level role. It can happen. Basketball? Not my thing. Human Service Nonprofits? Give me the ball.
If you accept that everyone is not great than you have to accept that you will always be dependent upon a few employees that are. Be thankful you have them.
Life in the Crab Basket
Great employees sometimes have a way of pulling their colleagues “up to a higher level”. They see that a new bar has been set and they will rise to the occasion. Brady’s are great in this way and they derive satisfaction from being agents of change. Sadly, not everybody shares this sentiment.
Maryland = Crabs
I am from Maryland and Maryland means blue crabs. When you catch or buy blue crabs they come in a bushel basket. These crabs are alive and the strong will try to escape. Interestingly, when one crab has the moxy to attempt an escape the less daring and weaker crabs pull them back inside. Sometimes a half-dozen crabs will jump on to pull back the one crab. Ironically, they are all ensuring their fate to the great steamer in the sky.
Your Brady Might Consider Other Teams
If a sufficient number of crabs are trying to pull your Brady Crab down they will eventually win. It is simply a matter of time. Trust me.
Years ago, I hired an extremely gifted and talented employee who was not yet 10 years into her career. At that time I did not have a position for her, so I created one. She was a rockstar and I wanted her to be part of our leadership team even thought she had 15 years less experience than the rest of us. Her contributions propelled our team forward, we were all running to catch up and it was unbelievably fun. To be honest, even though I was her supervisor, she scared me a little bit. Well, more than a little bit but I am good at faking. She was a Brady.
Interestingly, this woman was part of an underrepresented constituency in the organization and none of them were even close to her level. At first they celebrated her, then worked to hold her back, and then it was an all out attack. I was too new in my management career to understand what was happening and the rockstar ended up resigning. She went on to do great things – for another organization.
Ways to support your Brady
Get Advice from Critics (especially those working secretly behind the scenes
The crabs that are attempting to pull your Brady back into the bushel basket will likely give you advice. Often the advice is helpful and it is always revealing. You may discover an issue that your Brady Crab can address by setting the record straight or apologizing if needed. Typically, between the lines, other challenges may be revealed such as people being worried about their workload or their routines being disturbed. These are issues to discuss with your Brady and other leaders.
Do Your Job
However, if you are the senior leader these are your issues not your Brady’s. I have had leaders say to me regarding their struggling Brady, “Well, I explained to her that she needs to help others step up their game.” Really? Is it the Brady’s role to inspire your other direct reports? You can learn from your Brady as well. Step up into the pocket and have the courage to make that throw yourself by dealing with your own leadership and management problems.
Acknowledge and Discuss Challenges with Your Brady
There is no sense in not acknowledging that your Brady is being pulled back into the bushel basket. Some Brady’s recognize this quickly and others do not. The former is better than the latter since when the problem is not recognized quickly it can get out of control. If she is not recognizing the problem herself, you need to point it out. Right away. Issues like this don’t work themselves out.
This conversation may open the window for your Brady to begin thinking about leaving to find a work environment where she can win. In these situations, it is best for the leader of your Brady to have honest, open, and regular conversations. Your Brady is more likely to stick it out if she knows her superiors support her and are willing to have open conversations.
Running Interference is Risky
Running interference for your Brady is risky. When approaching your other leaders, it may be viewed as your Brady being forced upon them and that you are comparing. Leaders should not be compared to one another. They should be compared against their own position description which is aligned with the organizational strategy.
In my own conversations I had direct reports say something along the lines of “well, Brady did X,Y, and Z and that seems out of the norm.” These are perfect opportunities to say, “Yes, I thought the same thing and I think Brady is right. Do you remember the time you came to me about X and suggested there was a better way to move forward? That was a great idea and I am glad we implemented it.” You may have another Brady that has somehow or another become disillusioned.
Don’t be angry at the crabs that are trying to stay in the bushel basket. That sort of behavior is a learned behavior and it is from a lack of leadership.
1. Accept total responsibility for your team
You are the leader of all – not just the employees you like.
2. Acknowledge greatness and limitations
As a leader objectively assess your team and yourself.
3. Watch the Bushell Basket
Look to see if crabs are trying to pull your Brady down. This is a leadership moment.
4. Move Quickly
When problems emerge quickly open conversations with your Brady. Be straightforward.
5. Get Advice From Critics
In those conversations you may discover legitimate and illegitimate concerns and more than a few that have to do with your own leadership.
6. Run interference
7. Do your job
Step up into the pocket, throw the ball, and take the hit on occasion for the team.
Brady employees are great providing you guide them thoughtfully, respect their skills, and properly integrate them into the organization. Whether you have another Brady or not, you need a balanced team that brings everyone’s talents to the game.
After all, you are the Belichick.