TB12 Practices Intergenerational Collaboration

By Bill Murphy Jr. Contributing editor, Inc.com.

This is a story about one of the oldest active players in the history of the NFL, a sure-fire future Hall of Famer, and how he gets along with teammates who are many years younger and haven't yet proven themselves.

So, close your eyes. Imagine you're Tom Brady.  

Almost everybody in the U.S. knows who you are. You've been the star quarterback for the New England Patriots for 19 years. You've won five Super Bowls, and been the NFL's most valuable player three times. By the way, your wife is a supermodel.

Now, imagine you're a brand-new player on the Patriots. You were drafted in a late round maybe, or signed after a tryout. You were in grade school when Brady won his first Super Bowl. 

You walk into the locker room ready for your first practice, and you feel a tap on your shoulder. You spin around and hear four words:

"Hi. I'm Tom Brady."

Four words, two reasons

That's what Brady does, and what he says, every time a new player joins the team.

It doesn't matter who the new guy is. It doesn't matter if he's a no-name struggling to make the roster or a big free agent signing or a trade. The details come in a fascinating report, by Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post.

"I'm like, 'I know who you are,'" one such brand-new Patriots player, Phillip Dorsett, recalled for Kilgore, laughing as he told the story. "You don't have to introduce yourself."

Of course, that's the truth -- and that means there must be a reason for Brady to make sure that he introduces himself, acts friendly, and makes sure that for at least a moment at the start, he's on the same level with every new player on the team.

Actually, there are two reasons.

The first is the obvious one: the chasm. As eager and confident as most of them are, nobody comes to the team as an equal. As of earlier this season, Brady had thrown more than 500 passing touchdowns to 71 different players in the NFL. Most of them are no longer playing.

The second reason is just that Brady is getting old, and his new teammates are getting younger.

Time catches everyone

If you're a Boomer or Gen-Xer and you've worked with a lot of Millennials, you know that the age difference can be very real. (If you're a Millennial and you haven't had the experience yet, wait just a couple of minutes; time catches us all.)

At 41, Brady is eight years older than his two next oldest teammates. On the day the youngest Patriot, linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley was born, Brady was 19 and about to start the season as a backup quarterback at the University of Michigan.

Thirty of his teammates are closer in age to Brady's 11-year-old son than they are to Brady himself. We could keep going, but you get the point.

"We joke about it: He's 41, but he's really 24," backup quarterback Brian Hoyer said. "When I go home, I might feel 33. But when I come here, I feel the same age as I did when I was a rookie. The locker room doesn't change. ... I think he's very aware of those things. Doing this job keeps you that young."

"Gentelligence"

Of course, you don't have to be in the NFL to deal with different generations at work.

Kilgore quotes Megan Gerhardt, a professor at Miami University who specializes in leadership and generational differences in the workplace, who says, whether it's a strategy or not, Brady has chosen the perfect way to relate to younger co-workers, just by treating them at the start -- however briefly -- as equals.

"Somebody that's willing to build a relationship and connect with them and engage with them has a much better opportunity to pass down that experience and that wisdom than somebody who wouldn't have that relationship," Gerhardt said. "That means a lot more to Millennials than it has to prior generations."

Gerhardt coined a term -- "gentelligence" -- to stress how important it is to be emotionally intelligent when dealing with people of different generations at work.

"The best organizations and the most successful ones -- so in this case, that team -- they're viewing that as an opportunity rather than a threat," Gerhardt said. "That, as a strategy, whether it's on a field or in a company, is a lot more rare than we would expect."

Brady's youngest teammates, according to Kilgore, say he's figured it out.

"He's a very down-to-earth guy, easy to talk to," Deatrich Wise Jr., a 24-year-old defensive end, said. "That's what makes him so likable and lovable on the team, how he builds team chemistry amongst everybody on the team, through just talking, just interacting. ... He doesn't allow the stature he has to distance himself from everybody."