Tom Brady says great leaders try to improve even when they succeed: 'These are all the things that we [still] screwed up'

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates with the Vince Lombardi Trophy after beating the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium.
Mark J. Rebilas | USA TODAY Sports | Reuters

Most people try to learn from their mistakes. Tom Brady says great leaders go one step further than that.

On a recent episode of "Drive with Jim Farley," a podcast hosted by Ford CEO Jim Farley, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback said that over his 22 years in the National Football League so far, the best leaders he's seen are people who constantly seek self-improvement, even after they achieved success in some way.

Most people "wait to do poorly" before correcting themselves, Brady said. But always aiming to do better comes with benefits, he argued: Being aware of your shortcomings can help you identify why you were able to succeed in the first place, laying the groundwork to repeat that formula for success going forward.

"Great leaders are always saying, 'Well, it's good, but these are all the things that we [still] screwed up' when things went well, too," Brady said.

Brady, a seven-time Super Bowl champion, drew directly on his experience on the football field to explain his perspectives on leadership. He acknowledged that failure is still a powerful learning motivator: Losing games can "feel like a lot" in the moment, pushing him to quickly identify what he could have done to earn victory instead.

But the greatest athletes he's ever worked with often have "chips on their shoulders" that drive them to constantly work harder — and smarter — than anyone else around them, Brady said. That includes finding mistakes or areas of improvement to tackle even after doing something well.

Taking those extra steps can help you reach success repeatedly, according to Brady: You'll identify what can be better and, in the process, find out what worked and can be used again.

"When things are going good, you have to be very conscious and aware of why things are going good. And then try to continue to repeat those things, rather than say, 'Well, things went great because I'm just so great at all these things, and they're going to continue to go great,'" Brady said.

The strategy applies outside of sports: In a 2019 Inc. magazine article, serial entrepreneur Robert Glazer wrote that great leaders always work to improve themselves, pointing to a strategy called "capacity building." That's when you intentionally seek out, acquire and develop skills to "consistently perform at a higher level in pursuit of our innate potential," Glazer wrote.

Glazer, the CEO of marketing agency Acceleration Partners, noted that encouraging his employees to embrace the strategy helped create an environment where everyone — not just the boss — was committed to improvement and engaged at work.

On the podcast, Brady similarly argued that a focus on continuous improvement, regardless of whether you've recently succeeded or failed, is what helps you maximize your potential.

"I think so much of it is just trying to continue to reach another level," he said

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