Tom Brady is free! For the Patriots and the people of New England, it’s as if a great weight has been lifted.
The last seven and a half months have been frustrating to say the least. Even for the most optimistic Brady supporters, the court’s ruling was anything but guaranteed.
If there’s been one constant through every twist and turn of “Deflategate,” it’s been uncertainty. And while Brady has been at the eye of the storm, weathering this upheaval has been a challenge the entire organization has had to face.
Constant uncertainty. Upheaval. Unknown outcomes. Sounds a lot like running a startup. When I started my company, CoachUp, a platform to connect athletes with private coaches, we were a scrappy organization. We shared offices in a startup incubator, we hustled for funding, and recruited the hell out of great talent. But despite our tenacity, the reality of working in a small company is that you’re highly susceptible to upheaval. Problems that would barely ruffle a larger company-like the departure of an employee, or losing a client, or needing to find a new office-can mean disaster if you’re not prepared or nimble.
While the Patriots are a huge organization, there are some key lessons from the way they’ve handled (and won!) Deflategate as a team that can benefit any leader.
1. Stay unified. In times of uncertainty, the worst thing any organization can do is to start pointing fingers or playing the blame game. As an organization, the Patriots have remained unfailingly unified throughout the ups and downs of Deflategate. As a leader, team owner Bob Kraft has set the tone from the top down, supporting Tom Brady and standing up to Roger Goodell and the NFL. This unwavering leadership is essential to keep the organization unified.
To keep this sports analogy going, think about it this way: On the football field, when it’s fourth down and goal--your last chance to score--it’s the quarterback who sets the tone. Every player looks to him. If he’s flustered, if he’s uncertain, the whole offense is too. And you better believe that’s going to impact how they execute that next play.
In the media frenzy that has been Deflategate, the Patriots have presented a unified front. There’s never been a single crack in their organization, and that has a lot to do with the culture that Bob Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick have established. In the startup world, the lessons are clear. When faced with upheaval, it’s your job as the founder or CEO to keep your team on track, to unify them around your common mission and deliver a plan for how you’ll get through different outcomes.
2. Stay focused. When the media spoke with other Patriots players, they maintained a consistent refrain. Backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, whose role was perhaps the most uncertain of all, told reporters consistently that it was “business as usual.”
For all the players, and even Tom Brady (when he’s not in court), the focus has never been the “what ifs” of Deflategate--it’s been preparing themselves to perform their best this season. As Bob Kraft recently noted, they've been “ignoring the noise.” This single-minded focus is the hallmark of a high-level athlete, and one that often means the difference between success or failure in the pros.
In time of uncertainty in business, the companies that do the best are the ones in which individual contributors are able to stay focused on their own performance-and on doing what they need to do to hit their own benchmarks.
3. Do your job. The Patriots’ mantra says it all. Whether it’s Bob Kraft setting the example as the leader, Bill Belichick keeping his attention squarely on the gridiron, or Jimmy Garoppolo talking about “business as usual,” every person in the Patriots organization knows their job and embraces it. In times of uncertainty, it’s more important than ever that everyone fully understands their roles, responsibilities and goals. It’s easy to get flustered or worried. Trying to do everything at once will ultimately do more harm than good. Do your job. In the end, it’s pretty simple.
If there’s one lesson we can take from Deflategate, it’s that a strong organization--with a clear mission and an ingrained and positive culture--can overcome even the most “overblown” uncertainty.