When Tom Brady won his seventh Super Bowl championship in February, he was rightly praised for his success and longevity. On LinkedIn, however, I started seeing posts saying things like, “Tom Brady was the 199th pick in the 2000 NFL draft. Think about that the next time you review a resume that’s not a perfect fit for the job.”
I admire the sentiment-;and Tom’s is a great story-;but the emphasis is in the wrong place. When you’re hiring someone, trying to find the best mix of talent, experience and attitude is the best any of us can do. And it’s exactly what those NFL general managers did in 2000.
Those NFL teams didn’t make a mistake from which we can learn. They made the best decision they had with the information available. In fact, every single NFL team agreed there were 198 better choices than Brady at that moment in time. That’s all we can do when we go to make our next hire as well.
But there is a tremendous lesson that followed next. And that’s the lesson that all of us as managers should commit to memory.
Tom’s big break came when Drew Bledsoe was injured in the 2001 season. When Bledsoe recovered and returned, the Patriots made the decision to stick with Brady. This was particularly surprising to me because Bledsoe was the first overall pick in his draft year and, at the time a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback.
What’s the “Tom Brady Lesson” for managers and business owners, then?
It’s not to spend more time on bad resumes hoping to find the next Tom Brady. The likelihood of success doing that, over and over, looking for a diamond in the rough is very low.
But what managers and business owners need to do is let their hires rise to the level that they are capable of once they get in the door. What college a person went to, or what jobs they had previously are no longer important after they are hired. What matters is their ability to make your company better.
Several years ago, I decided that Ignite Social Media needed to build out an analytics department. We hired two people as the initial hires. One was a seasoned director with over a decade of experience. The other was a brand-new graduate with a degree and a somewhat unnatural affection for Microsoft Excel. He took the assistant role.
Within about six months, it became crystal clear that the assistant was the Tom Brady of analytics. The seasoned director, on the other hand, was asking that assistant for help with basic Excel functions. The director wasn’t even the Drew Bledsoe of analytics, sadly. He was Ryan Leaf (largely considered the worst draft pick of all time), although with a better attitude.
We fairly quickly made the decision to part ways with the director and begin to promote the graduate. He’s now the director of that area, managing other people and constantly impressing us all.
Similarly, two different women who stared working with our company as interns are now senior vice presidents. Along the way, I’ve hired people who came in the door with more years of experience than them, or who went to higher ranked colleges.
But each of these women just kept taking the next harder challenge and crushing it. When someone does that, there’s nothing left for a manager to do but give them increasingly difficult assignments and see just how far they can take it.
One can look at this philosophy as altruistic. But to me, the real benefit of this management philosophy is to the team. Because the Patriots let Tom Brady rise as far as he was able, the team won multiple Super Bowls. Because we’ve let our people rise as far as they can (when the business has available growth opportunities), the team at Ignite Social Media has been the biggest beneficiaries.
That’s the real lesson from Tom Brady’s success, in my view. Once you’ve made the decision to hire a person, which draft pick they were should be quickly forgotten. Give them some reps in practice and see what they can do.