“Did you see that? He completely lost it!”
Back in December, during a game against the Washington Redskins, New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady lost his cool. After throwing an interception, Brady was caught on camera in a shouting match with his offensive coordinator, Bill O’Brien, that become so heated the two had to be separated.
Now, it’s not unusual for an athlete to lose his temper, but for Brady, it was completely out of character, which is probably why it dominated sports headlines for the next few days. To say that Brady is normally cool under pressure is an understatement. The guy won three Super Bowls before the age of 30, and until the incident in December, had never been captured on film looking anything other than composed.
But on that day, the two-time league MVP had a problem with the play-calling, and he let it be known. I have no problem with what he did, and neither did Jim Noga, CIO at Partners HealthCare, who brought up the incident between Brady and O’Brien during a recent healthsystemCIO.com interview with Anthony Guerra.
Noga, who is a Patriots fan, called it “an example of confrontation that is a necessity.” And “while it may have been heated, I’m guessing it really was about what happened on the field, and it wasn’t a personal attack on one another,” he said, adding that both parties said it ended up having a positive outcome.
When speaking about his own leadership principles, Noga stated that “confrontation and conflict, when well-managed, moves an organization forward. What can’t happen is that you can’t get personal. It should stay professional. And that’s what I tell my folks as a leadership team: I want confrontation. I want the naysayers.”
I love his philosophy, and I too believe that the airing of grievances can benefit an organization; that bottling up feelings can result in much more detrimental outcomes. After thinking about this for a while, I’ve identified three situations in which it is okay to pull a Brady — even if it means potentially angering your superiors.
1. When it goes against your values. You might be asked to do something that isn’t necessarily wrong, but it goes against what you believe is the right way to conduct business. Maybe you’re being asked to take a shortcut that shouldn’t be taken, or to do something that could bring more revenue to the organization, but at the cost of integrity. The latter situation comes up pretty frequently in journalism; sadly, I know many editors who have been asked to either mention a product in an article or even paint it in a positive light if it means helping to secure ad revenue. Editorial and advertising should be kept separate, period. If they’re not, a confrontation is in order.
2. When you know there’s a better way. If you’re being asked to do something that, again, isn’t wrong, but you have a better idea, it might be time to pull a Brady. For instance, if you’re organization is being asked to do too much too fast, and you feel that it would better serve all parties to do some prioritizing, speak up. Or maybe things are being done a certain way “because that’s the way it’s always been.” To me, that’s a pretty bad reason. Years ago, when working at a newspaper, I raised a stink because I thought the system of having one person — the editor-in-chief — decide the Player of the Year made no sense. We were all covering the games, and therefore all deserved to have some input. I voiced my opinion, and I’m glad I did.
3. When it’s just plain wrong. This is a big one. It could mean you’re being asked to do something that is detrimental to your organization, a competing organization, or another individual. It could mean going behind someone’s back, leaking out information that isn’t yours to share, or lying to influence a decision. A woman I used to work with was once asked to pad the statistics of an advertising campaign to make it look like a banner ad generated more hits than it actually had. When she refused, it resulted in an ugly shouting match, but it had to be done.
In Brady’s case, the argument he was making was that there was a better play to run in that situation. And I believe that someone who has led his team to five Super Bowls in just over a decade has earned that right.
What’s important to point out, however, is that pulling a Brady only works if it’s a rare event. Once you start making a scene on a regular basis, it becomes white noise and will lose its effect. The key is to save it for those times when it really matters.
It’s also important to make sure that you keep it professional — never get personal, as Noga pointed out, and be ready to face the music, as Brady did during the post-game press conference.
If you follow these steps, even the biggest meltdown can be a constructive one. And when it’s all over, you could be headed back to the Super Bowl.