Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was asked recently about the people who impacted his life. Tom said that without a doubt, he is not standing where he is today without the help of a fellow named Greg Harden. This got me curious so I researched who Greg Harden was. Turns out he is an assistant athletic director at The University of Michigan and a professional counselor. Greg is credited with saving the career of Brady, Heisman trophy winner Desmond Howard, Michael Phelps, and countless other athletes who have gone to Michigan. He has a great message, and I will link to the article and video so you can see it yourself but the part that struck me was at his message to Brady et.al. is a simple one, control the controllables.
It sounds so simple; just concentrate on what you can do. But simple is never easy. We all get caught all the time. We struggle to do our best, but sometimes we feel that the deck is stacked against us and there is no where we can succeed. On those times where we are not where we want to be, it becomes a failsafe to point fingers and assess blame. Unfortunately, it is an easy habit to get into and becomes a safety blanket for our psyche. We don’t like to think of ourselves as victims, but we quickly assess the reason we are not where we want to be as someone else’s fault.
The odds of rising to the top in a competitive world are tough. The pool is shrinking and the talent is increasing. Our success often depends on a matrix of people and ideas coming together and getting the job done. When we don’t see the results we want, we look around the boat and automatically assume that we are the only one rowing. “I am busting my butt, but we are going nowhere!”
It is not a new phenomenon. When I was a classroom teacher, the group of students who resisted cooperative activities the most were always the gifted and talented kids. They were focused on their success, and were reluctant to turn over their grade to anyone else. If it was a choice of working on their own or in a group, they always chose the independent route. But what do those kids do now when our modern workplaces demand that we work in teams? Giving over the control of our success to someone else is the one thing that scares us the most?
Let your strengths be your strengths
One of the first things Mr. Harden teaches the athletes at the University of Michigan is that talent is not enough. Everyone has the tools. You wouldn’t be here if you didn’t. But how come if you have the talent, you are not successful? Harden’s response is simple, focus on you and believe in you. If you don’t believe in yourself, how will anyone else believe in you? Figure out what your strengths are, and let them be your strengths. Build on what you have and be the best. Then, if the project or team is not successful, it won’t be because you didn’t do what you do best.
I’m not Tom Brady, but even he wasn’t Tom Brady when he was in college. He was a kid who thought he should start and wasn’t given the chance. He bided his time as a backup and was ready to lead, but the coaches were not sold on his ability and recruited someone to take his place. Brady was angry, frustrated, and wanted to go somewhere else. He went to Harden and told him his frustrations. The answer was not what he was expecting: “Bye!” was what he heard.
You see, Tom was consumed with things he could not control; someone else’s assessment of his abilities. What he could control was how those abilities were displayed. He was told to forget about the other quarterbacks; learn the playbook better than anyone else, get your passes off better than anyone else, be in better condition than anyone else, if the receiver drops the ball make sure that it wasn’t because the ball was late. If you do that, then, no matter how much they complained, it was on them and not you. If you start or not, it is not because you didn’t do all you could and you will never have to look down to anyone. Trust that your talent will shine, essentially, control the controllables.
Trust your managers and yourself
It is too easy to look at the task in front of us as impossible. To essentially back off and quit before we even start. In 2005 I was part of a major undertaking in assessing classroom teachers. There were 75 of us, over 10,000 teachers that needed to be conferenced with, observed, evaluated and counseled. We had one school year to do it. There were literally thousands of reasons we would not be successful. We had to schedule all these meetings, and convince a highly reluctant group of teachers that while we were there to evaluate them, we were also there to help them. After seeing the scope of the task in front of us, it was clear we were going to fail.
Early on in the process I went out with some coworkers as we were getting ready to start. Many of my peers had their calculators going and shared how the math didn’t work. How if we were going to do the job effectively, we needed more time, smaller workloads, less pressure, etc. We were fretting and looking around, trying to figure out what our next steps were after the project bombed when I noticed one of my peers writing things on some paper and not paying attention. When I asked her what she was doing, she shared that she was mapping out how she was going to set her appointments and get started. I said to her how the task was impossible and she looked at me and said “Yep, but it is not going to fail because of me”.
I was stunned. That was such a simple answer and she was right. I followed her lead and started contacting my people and working to the best of my ability. It wasn’t easy, but that project was getting my best. If someone else added up wrong, well that was on them. I was only going to focus on what I could control, and that was what I preached to everyone else.
We ended up meeting our goals. We focused on our loads, and helped each other out as needed. That was when I realized that being a member of a team, starts with me. If I am focusing on what I do, if I identify my strengths as strengths and build them, then the team will work. Once I control what I can control, then others will follow me.
Tom Brady has become one of the greatest of all time. He is confident, sure, and in charge. All characteristics that would serve him well in life even if football did not work out for him. That may be the best thing a leader can show us.
If you like this post, here is a link to a great 60 Minutes feature on Greg Harden. Be sure to check it out.
And here is the article about Greg Harden and Brady’s relationship