With Martin G. Moore

Episode #29

Winning Without Self Interest: How long term focus pays off in multiples

Everyone is driven by self-interest. It is an intrinsic part of the human DNA, so we can never overcome it entirely.

However, we can learn to put self-interest aside for the greater good which, ironically, often results in better long term outcomes for us as individuals. This episode explores how we can fight our basic instincts with long term vision and belief.

I have centred this episode on an incredible true story of how putting self-interest aside and focusing on the ‘greater good’ has resulted in one of the most incredible long term outcomes that any individual could hope for (but no spoilers yet as to what this is).

The benefits of being able to put self-interest aside are many, and if you can manage to overcome this natural human instinct, the return over time is incalculable.

I’ll give you my practical recipe for reframing any situation to enable a long term view that not only serves you best, but that other people will be drawn to!

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Episode #29 Winning Without Self Interest: How long term focus pays off in multiples

Let me say at the outset, I realised I’ve used a few sporting analogies of late. So I apologise to those in the audience that sport doesn’t resonate with. However, this one is a fascinating story and a case study that’s simply too good not to tell. It has so many parallels with our respective leadership journeys that I know every single one of you will walk away better off having spent 15 minutes on this episode.

from top 200 to GOAT

So let’s start with who is Tom Brady. He’s an American football quarterback. A household name in the US, and I’m sure even many of our listeners around the world in places as far from the USA, Uganda, Denmark, South Africa, and Australia will have heard his name. In American football, which is probably one of the most competitive sports on the planet, he is universally known as the GOAT. And the GOAT is an acronym for the ‘greatest of all time’. But the interesting part is the back story. Brady joined the National Football League, or the NFL, in the USA in 2000 from the University of Michigan as a backup quarterback for the New England Patriots. Now, the Patriots are a team based in Boston, but belonging to the six New England states in the northeast of the country. In the NFL, they have a draft each year to bring players into the league from the colleges and universities across the country. In the NFL draft in 2000, Brady was picked in the sixth round as the 199th pick. Now think about that. The guy who just scraped into the top 200 in his draft year has become the greatest player of all time. So there’s hope for any of you out there who are late bloomers!

When the 2000 season commenced, Brady was number four on the quarterback depth chart at the Patriots. What that means is there were three other quarterbacks at the Patriots, the starter and two other reserves, who were preferred ahead of Tom. But by the end of his first season, he had worked himself into the number two spot in the depth chart. So in other words, he was the first reserve. He became the starting quarterback for the Patriots in 2001 after Drew Bledsoe was injured, and he has never looked back. Since then, he’s become the GOAT. He now has six Super Bowl Championships to his name, the most recent in the 2018 season, just decided last month.

Now there’s only one other team that has this many Super Bowl Championships in their franchise history, and that’s the Pittsburgh Steelers. So think about that. Brady has more championships personally in his career than 30 NFL teams in their whole history. And he holds the record for being both the youngest in 2001 and the oldest in 2018 quarterback to ever win a Super Bowl.

Let’s talk strategy

I’ll come back to Tom. One of my favourite books on business strategy is actually a book called Moneyball by Michael Lewis. And I’m sure many of you all have read it. If not, you may have seen the movie they made a few years ago starring Brad Pitt. This is about how to win a game where the odds are stacked against you, and it focuses on the US Major League Baseball competition. Now in baseball, there are no salary caps. So you can effectively outspend other teams in the search for winning a championship. So for example, the Boston Red Sox have a roster salary of over $200 million per annum. The Devil Rays in Tampa Bay, Florida, unfortunately have a roster salary of around $40 million. Only a fifth, 20% of the top teams. But they still have to compete together in the same league.

Now Moneyball, focused on one team’s way to beat the odds in this environment by making strategic choices and not just following conventional wisdom, which is why I love the book so much. But the NFL that Tom Brady plays in is not like that. The system is designed so that the same teams can’t keep winning. They have strict roster salaries to keep the playing field level, if you’ll pardon the pun, and the draft and the player trading systems are designed to ensure the best players available each year go to the teams with the weakest performance in the previous year. So for example, out of the 32 teams in the NFL, since the Patriots just won the 2018 Super Bowl, their first draft pick in 2019 is number 32. Basically, every other team gets a crack at the new talent before the Patriots do. And thereby the playing field is level.

So why is it then that in the 18 years that Tom Brady’s been playing the starting quarterback, the Patriots have been to nine Super Bowls? That is, every other year, they’re one of the two best teams in the 32 team league. Of the nine appearances, they’ve won six times. So on average, the Patriots are in the Super Bowl every second year. And on average, they win it one year out of every three. They are winning in a system and a market that is specifically designed to ensure that this can’t happen and it can’t go down that way.

how does it fit with removing self-interest as a leader?

Well, finding out what’s behind the Patriots’ winning streak is a complex question. But I’m gonna focus down on one particular aspect of this. Tom Brady’s apparent lack of self interest. This has paid off massively over his career to help him become the greatest of all time. Now after winning three Super Bowls in just four years at the very start of his career, 2001, 2003, 2004, Brady could have commanded the highest salary of any quarterback in the league. Yep. Pretty much every year for the last 15 years. But in 2018, he was only the 44th highest paid player in the league. And there were 20 quarterbacks being paid more than the greatest of all time, Tom Brady.

How so? Well, Brady decided very early on to put his self-interest and his ego aside because he was more interested in the team and the legacy they could create. He wanted to win. And he realised there was no point in being the highest paid quarterback as you could have rightly expected, if the team kept losing. That doesn’t get you to being the GOAT. And there’s absolutely no point in being the best passer in the league if there’s no one on the other end to catch it. So he’s continually negotiated contracts for much lower remuneration than he could have so the team could benefit by having more money to spend on getting better players in other positions.

Now Business Insider estimates that over the course of his career, Brady has given up at least $60 million in salary. And they’ve said they think it could be as high as $100 million. Clearly, Brady isn’t short of a buck, but that level of selflessness is what’s enabled him to become the greatest of all time and the Brady era of the Patriots to be the most successful team dynasty in the history of the sport. Let’s just pause for a minute to think about this as a leader. What looks on face value is being a simple case of putting others ahead of yourself and taking one for the team, so to speak, is actually a very targeted, deliberate long-term thinking strategy. If your goal and focus is to get what you deserve right now, then you can probably get it. But if you can find a way to subordinate this urge to the greater good, what you can create can be infinitely more powerful and rewarding. No one will ever remember who was the highest paid. But they’ll certainly remember who has the greatest impact on them and the organisations they’ve worked for.

my role model for focusing on the greater good

I’ve been very fortunate in my career to work with people who’ve been exemplars of the principle of always working for the greater good. In particular, I worked for several years on two separate occasions for an incredible woman by the name of Deborah O’Toole. Now Deb was CFO at Mount Isa Mines, an ASX 50 listed mining company. And she hired me as the Chief Information Officer, which was right at the start of my executive career. I then worked for her again when she was CFO of the company that become Aurizon, the largest bulk commodity rail business in Australia. What Deb modelled wasn’t difficult for her because it was very much who she is at her core.

Last week we spoke about your leadership fingerprint and the fact that you can’t pretend to be something you’re not. Well, when it comes to selfless pursuit of seeking the best outcome as a leader, Deb is the archetype. Putting self-interest to one’s side translates itself in a number of ways:

  • Making hard decisions that aren’t necessarily in your own best interests will have a high personal risk because you know it’s best for the team and the organisation.

  • Not buying into the politics when the majority of the other executives are more concerned about feathering their own nest and jogging for position. Instead, you hold true to the principle of creating the greatest value possible with what you have at your disposal, lifting others up because you know it’s the right thing to do.

  • Being completely honest and transparent in all your dealings, once again, even when it increases the risk to you personally. And finally,

  • A high level of integrity and honesty, even when potentially detrimental personally. No excuses. No blaming others. And certainly no cover ups.

How to change your approach from today

Here’s something really interesting that I found over many years to hold true in every context I’ve been in. If you are in it for yourself, your people will never be in it for you. Ever. Now trust me, this will stop you from getting the best results you could possibly get with the people you’ve got. And it will certainly be counterproductive to a long-term goal of being the best leader you can be. But just imagine if you took the view and you had the understanding, the assurance, and the belief that doing the right thing is always the best for you over the long-term. Even when it calls for short-term sacrifice or subordination of your personal goals to the greater good.

Here’s the kicker. If you don’t remember anything else in this episode, you need to remember this. Believe in the principle that if you do the very best you can, at every point, for your team and the organisation you work for, without focusing constantly on yourself, you will ultimately be better off in the long-term. I developed a few mantras many years ago largely learning from people like Deb. Although this was already fundamentally a part of who I was, thanks to the great upbringing my parents gave me, I learned how to apply it in an organisational context from Deb’s great mentorship. So here’s the things that I hold true and hold as mantras.

  1. I believe that if I do the best thing I can for the organisation, my people, and the stakeholders, it will be noticed and rewarded.

  2. If I never compromise my values, I will always appear consistent, and this will build trust and commitment from my team.

  3. I am happy to lose my job if the organization’s values are inconsistent with what I know to be right. So that’s saying, “It’s not a company that I want to work for anyway.”

  4. I’m happy for any decision I make and the intent and rationale behind that decision to be published on the front page of the newspaper as I’m confident of my integrity and that I’m doing the right things for the right reasons.

Now arguably, there have been times in my career that I’ve been disadvantaged financially because of my adherence to these principles. But one thing I have today that is quite rare. I can look myself in the mirror every morning and be confident and comfortable in who I am and the way I choose to do things with absolutely no regrets or misgivings. This is absolutely priceless and I wouldn’t trade it for all the money in the world.

So as this episode comes to a close, have a think about what your life would be like if you could learn to put aside your self-interest and start seeking the greater good and a higher purpose.

What would this mean for you personally?

What would it mean for your team?

What would it mean for your family?

And what would it mean for your legacy?

After all, if we learn nothing else from Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, we’ve learned that putting self-interest aside isn’t actually penalising you. It’s simply taking short-term thinking and turning it into long-term results.


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