If you are not from New England and you are even a mild football fan, my guess is you probably hate Tom Brady.
(I can’t imagine why)
And if you are even a mild sports fan, you probably know of and respect Peyton Manning:
(and with one gif, the myth that white people can’t dance is destroyed)
This blog post is a look at how their styles of communicating affect the way that the public (and the media) perceive their intentions and their trustworthiness.
Here in New England we are pretty sensitive about the whole Brady versus Manning story, especially when it comes to how the two are perceived by the national media (specifically ESPN).
If you have followed even a little bit of football in the past year, you may have heard about a controversy regarding deflated New England Patriot footballs called (wait for it) “deflategate.” It dominated the news and television throughout 2015 and even made one former NFL quarterback cry on national television because of the harm Tom Brady was doing the sport by “lying” to the public. The commissioner of the NFL even compared the deflated footballs to using steroids, thereby justifying the punishment of a four game suspension. (If you want a full breakdown on the silliness, click here.)
Meanwhile New England sports fans went bananas the past few weeks when Peyton Manning was mentioned in an Al Jazeera America story that he was among a number of NFL and baseball players to have taken Human Growth Hormone (which is to athletes what spinach is to Popeye). What made the fans lose their minds is that the national media was pretty quick to give Peyton Manning the benefit of the doubt when the accusations started to fly.
So to recap:
To be clear, I don’t care which side of the argument you come out on, what I’m interested in is why the difference in perception. As Chad Finn (Boston sports writer) writes in his column, there is a cognitive dissonance for Patriot fans that Peyton Manning (number one in the draft and part of football royalty) gets to be considered a trustworthy “every-man” while Tom Brady (drafted 199th and never was a starter in college) gets considered to be the “golden boy.”
And here we come to their communication styles.
Tom Brady is notoriously competitive. He models his press conferences after his coach:
(okay, maybe with less surliness)
His objective when he talks to the press is to give nothing away and stay focused on winning. Winning is all that he wants and it has kept him motivated and at the top of his game despite being on the wrong side of 35.
He openly works the refs during games, screams at his players when they mess up and can be seen sulking even when his team is up, if he doesn’t think they are playing as well as they could.
In short, Tom Brady commits the sin of naked ambition, which is something that people in general are very uncomfortable being around. It’s why we secretly hate the lab partner in school who complains openly that his 91% on the test will bring down his average, or how we feel about politicians who seem to want to be President more than anything in the world.
Fact is that we have trouble with “strivers” or people who display their need for success so clearly. While we may champion their success, we typically can’t wait for them to fail.
On the other hand, people love to see their athletes, politicians and leaders be humble and have a sense of humor about themselves:
Yes, they need to be successful and yes they should work hard and try to win, but don’t embarrass us by wanting us to see how hard you work!
My hypothesis is that this is why people who are born into privilege are often seen as leaders, regardless of their experience, education or capabilities. They feel like they belong, always.
George W. Bush was often mocked for being under-informed on the issues (he famously said that he doesn’t read any newspapers. Even if that is true, you probably shouldn’t admit it), but he was masterful at working the crowd and making others feel at ease. He gave nicknames to reporters and joked with them in a way that made him seem likable and friendly. He did not seem like the guy who wanted the “A” more than having a good time with friends.
(Unlike the guy on the left)
In summary, what we can learn from the comparison between Brady and Manning, as well as from the general public perception of them (outside of New England) is that naked ambition can interfere with how you are perceived. The more apparent your need to be seen as a winner is to others, the less likable, trustworthy and relatable you are to others.
In no way does this mean you should swallow, dampen or lose that ambition. Just know how it can impact you. If you have an awareness of your ambition, then you will also have an awareness of your inner fear that you might not get what you most desire. The secret is in wanting to be successful while also having joy in who you are and what you do. You can be authentic and ambitious and loved.
This was the secret to Larry Bird, an athlete who was visibly ambitious and who also didn’t grow up in privilege. He learned how to show his joy while also wanting nothing less than a championship. His press conferences were always awkward, but they were also authentic. You never got the impression that he was trying to make you think something about him. He just was.
Maybe in the end, that is what trips up someone like Tom Brady. We see him trying so hard to be perceived as a sports icon and a winner, that when he trips up or when a scandal (no matter how silly) comes his way, we want it to stick. The same can be said for certain politicians, leaders and celebrities.
Let go of the need to be seen as a winner and just be a winner. The perceptions will take care of themselves.