Tom Brady, the incredibly successful New England Patriots quarterback, does the same thing every time.

Every time.

Hold that thought.

In my line of work I get to meet a lot of extremely successful and famous people. (Not that "successful" and "famous" always go together.) When I meet those people in person, most of the time it goes something like this:

I walk in the room. Other people in the room look up, nod, and smile.

The famous person doesn't look up. He (in this case, it's always a he) doesn't nod. He definitely doesn't nod. He -- in this case it's always a he -- is "busy," even if he's not actually doing anything.

I walk over to introduce myself. "Hi," I say, "I'm Jeff Haden. It's great to meet you." 

Sometimes he will shake the hand I extend. Sometimes he will make eye contact as we do. More often, though, he doesn't. And he definitely doesn't introduce himself.

Why should he? I know who he is.

In his mind, everyone knows who he is.

Tom Brady's 4 Words

So now imagine you're James Develin. You played on the defensive line at Brown -- great school, but hardly a college football powerhouse -- and you didn't get drafted by an NFL team.

But you have a dream, so you keep grinding. You manage to play one game in the Arena Football League. You switch from defensive line to fullback and manage to sign with another Arena League team.

The next year you make the Cincinnati Bengal's practice squad. (Meaning you aren't on the 53-man active roster, can't play in games, and earn a fraction of what roster players make... but you do practice with the team). Things are looking up.

Except the Bengals cut you at the end of training camp the following year. 

Where the chances of a pro football career are concerned, yours are marginal at best.

And then the New England Patriots ask you to join their practice squad. 

Think about walking into that locker room, and how shy and insecure you would feel. Think about walking onto that practice field for the first time and feeling like such a small fish in a very, very large pond.

But then think about how you feel when an extremely successful -- and famous -- guy walks all the way across the field to greet you on that first day.

"Hi, I'm Tom Brady," the Patriots quarterback said.

"Obviously," Develin says, recalling that moment, "I knew who he was."

As Dan Wetzel writes, Brady's goal wasn't to make sure Develin (now a key member of the Patriots; check out his block to spring Burkhead for the winning touchdown in the video below) knew his name.

Brady knows every football player knows his name. But NFL rosters constantly change. Each year -- and even during the season, since the average NFL career spans less than four years -- a significant portion of the team is new.

Which means Brady, just like the leader of any successful team, needs to build new relationships extremely quickly.

"He's just a regular guy," Develin says. "He's just as personable and approachable as anyone on our team. He does a good job staying on everyone's level."

But is saying "Hi" to the new guy or gal on the team such a big deal? No.

And yes.

Why It Matters

The first time I met Dale Earnhardt Jr., he walked straight over to me and said, "Hi, I'm Dale."

The first time I met Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett, he walked straight over to me and said, "Hey, I'm Kirk Hammett," (and then looked at the view through the Inc. office windows and said, "Whoa, this place is rad.")

The first time I met Venus Williams, she walked straight over to me and said, almost shyly, "It's very nice to meet you. I'm Venus."

Big deal? No.

And yes.

I knew who Dale, Kirk, and Venus are. They knew I knew who they are... but still. 

Introducing themselves immediately set a nice tone. It made things feel more comfortable. It made things feel more relaxed. (It made me feel more comfortable and relaxed.)

In short, introducing themselves felt more human.

"I love when people joke with me, because it means they are comfortable with me," Brady says. "And I like when guys know me for a while because they feel free to cut loose. That's kind of how I am and I like to go back and forth...a lot of smack talk back and forth."

That's important to Brady, if only because it's important to the team's success. He needs teammates to speak up. He needs teammates to ask questions, to provide input, and to challenge him.

Even though the Patriots have Brady -- who will play in his ninth Super Bowl, is a lock to enter the Hall of Fame, and is arguably the best quarterback in NFL history -- great teams are made up of great people, all of whom contribute.

That's why Brady immediately tries to set the right tone.

That's why you should, too.

To some of the people you meet, you're a star. You're the owner. You're the boss. You're the key customer. You're somebody.

But if you want to set the right tone... act like you're not.

Published on: Feb 1, 2019
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