It looked really bad.
It was Super Bowl Sunday, and just before I was to board a London flight, I got a glimpse of the half-time score: the surprising Atlanta Falcons were winning 21-3 over the mighty New England Patriots.
In my house, we are all diehard Patriots fans. I was texting with my two sons, trying to encourage them to keep a positive outlook. “Don’t lose faith,” I texted them. “If anyone can mount a huge comeback, it’s the Patriots.” I signed off and boarded my plane.
Eight hours later, I touched down (no pun intended) at Heathrow Airport. I frantically turned on my phone to check out the score.
“Are you kidding me?” I thought to myself. I sat there stunned as I looked at the final score: 34-28.
How did the Patriots pull off the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history?
I carefully studied the highlights and the volumes of commentary from the sports analysts. Some felt the Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady, the game’s MVP, had authored not only the greatest Super Bowl performance, but also perhaps the all-time best performance of any athlete – ever. Some took to calling him the Greatest of All Time (G.O.A.T.).
Brady has been a subject of two of my previous blogs. In fact my very first blog that I ever wrote was about the adversity he faced when in Michigan. The second was after the Patriots’ last Super Bowl win against the Seattle Seahawks, and his reflections on his team’s mental toughness.
Yet, as I thought about last Sunday’s accomplishment, I began to see a new narrative develop.
Fox Sports ran a story about the nine unsung heroes of the team. To me, that’s what the story is really about — an organization that knows how to unearth hidden talent and, at times, even discarded talent.
Let’s start with Brady himself. Early in his career, no one would have predicted he was going to be the greatest of all time. As everyone knows, he was drafted 199th overall in the sixth round.
But he’s not the only one. Star receiver Julian Edelman was picked in the seventh round. Same for running back James White, who was picked in the fourth round. Malcolm Butler, the hero of their last Super Bowl win, was undrafted. Chris Hogan was undrafted. Danny Amendola was also undrafted. There were also other players rejected by other teams, and picked up by the Patriots.
This is a team of stars that didn’t start out as superstars. They had to earn their stardom with hard work.
This is an organization that has an uncanny ability to see talent where others don’t, and to unleash talent that others couldn’t.
This is the powerful lesson for all of us in leadership roles. What’s your track record as a leader in unearthing the hidden talent among your employees?
Although luck certainly plays a role in finding that diamond-grade talent in the rough, there are also best practices that build a foundation for unearthing talent from unusual places.
The first is to not simply focus your energy on finding superstars. At the end of the day, there aren’t that many around to begin with. Recent research suggests that only one in seven employees are actually superstars.
The second is to have a nose for those diamonds in the rough. The Patriots’ coaching and scouting staff do things that other teams do not do. They have their feelers out with coaches from the not-so-big colleges and universities. They look for players who come from schools with a pedigree of good coaching that not only produce good players, but good people as well.
The third is to be prepared to make some bets on the people on your team. In my own experience, I find it’s a very intuitive process. You may have a hunch on someone’s real capability, even when they may not have the same understanding about themselves. It isn’t until they are put in a new environment or given a new challenge that they then start to blossom.
Finally, value other intangibles that people may bring to your team. Bill Belichick sets the tone by ensuring players bring an unselfish drive to win. If someone’s personal ego gets too big, they are gone from the team. Belichick values sacrifice, loyalty, and hard work above all other variables.
This week’s gut check asks: what are you doing to unearth the hidden talent on your team?