After 22 years in the National Football League, seven Super Bowl championships, a book full of records, and more leadership lessons than most of us could count ( not that I haven't tried), Tom Brady might well have played his last game. 

Well, maybe. As my colleagues Justin Bariso and Jason Aten pointed out, Brady has been smart (highly emotionally intelligent, in fact) in not rushing to declare whether he plans to play next season or retire.

However, Brady shared a very important message yesterday that could offer a clue: a single, key sentiment that he repeated over and over (in different words), within a 177-word message on Facebook and Instagram.

In fact, it's probably the most important thing any great leader knows to say--just before the end of just about anything. It's the thing you say before you say goodbye.

'All that is on my mind ...'

Let's go straight to the message. It begins like this:

I understand that at this stage in my career, there is going to be interest in my future whenever a season ends, but this week, all that is on my mind is the gratitude I have for this team and the fans that have supported us all year long ...

That's the important word: gratitude. From the Latin word gratus, which means "pleasing" or "thankful," it's is among the most selfless words in the English language: a sincere, "feeling of appreciation or thanks," according to Merriam-Webster.

Emotionally intelligent leaders understand that it's selfless because it comes after the performance, when there's nothing more to gain, at least in the short term, as a result of expressing it.

That's also why it's so important. Besides just doing the right thing, sharing it is an opportunity to leave other people with an indelible, positive, lasting feeling toward you.

I'm not just going to copy and paste all of Brady's words here; you can read his post below. But, we can pull out the quotes -- and you'll see the same simple theme, over and over and over: 

  • "I am appreciative of everyone who worked their ass off to help our team achieve so much ..."
  • "There's so much to appreciate in a season like this ..."
  • "That feeling is something that I promise I'll never take for granted ..."
  • "Thank you. I love you all!"

Easily transferable lessons

I'm only a casual NFL fan, but I've followed Brady closely for his entire career. For one thing, I grew up close to Gillette Stadium in Massachusetts, where the New England Patriots play (and Brady spent the first 20 years of his career).

But I've also seen--and written about often--how clearly Brady illustrates leadership principles that are easily transferrable to business and other pursuits. Among my favorites:

I'll be honest: I hope this isn't the end for Brady, and that he's not going to retire yet.

Not just because I enjoy watching him play, but also because I have a feeling there are a lot more lessons to learn.

That said, Brady understands leadership and especially emotionally intelligent leadership--themes I illustrate in my two free e-books,Tom Brady Always Wins, and 9 Smart Habits of People With Very High Emotional Intelligence (2021). 

That means he also knows that "gratitude" would be the perfect coda to an amazing career. The question is whether he'll have another year (or more) to be grateful for.