10 Leadership Lessons Inspired by Peyton Manning

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By Jennifer Shanahan Smoldt
Marketing Communications Consultant & Content Marketer www.precisionmarcom.com

Maybe I’m feeling nostalgic as Sunday’s playoff game approaches between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots. Fact is, this could be Manning’s last game—ever (unless he pulls a Favre). Most would favor the Patriots, but not this Denverite. I really don’t have much against Brady or the Patriots—besides their (alleged) underinflated balls. Nevertheless, I’ll be saying my Hail Mary for Peyton this Sunday.

Even if you’re not a football fan, there are lessons to be learned from Manning’s personality and professionalism. To be honest, I’m not that football literate, but I do occasionally get subjected to SportsCenter while sharing the gym with my husband. And thus, have observed that Manning seems a stand-up guy—one of the few players (hopefully) where you don’t have to worry about his jersey number coming back to haunt you.

So, here are my top 10 leadership lessons inspired by Peyton Manning:

  1. Omaha! No one, besides the Denver Broncos, really knows what “Omaha” means. It became a national sensation when Manning humorously revealed nothing with this statement: Omaha is a run play, but it could be a pass play or a play-action pass depending on a couple things: when, which way we’re going, the quarter and the jerseys that we’re wearing. So it varies, really, play to play. So, that’s — there’s your answer to that one.” What is clear is that “Omaha” is a strategy. You need to have a documented playbook that your team can follow and communicate so your efforts are effective and successful.
  2. Talk is cheap. Let’s face it; trash talk is part of the game. But be careful, it can come back to bite you. Remember Brady’s Facebook post where he’s riding a cartoon bronco? That didn’t turn out so well for him last November, with the Broncos sending the Patriots home and “correcting” Brady’s image to show him bucked of the bronco. Despite, some playful antics, both Manning and Brady are class acts—and the Broncos and Patriots organizations are two of the classiest in the league. That’s why it’s sad when fans stir the pot with antics like the recent whisky “gift” sent to Manning’s wife (a reference to Manning’s HGH allegations): Dear Peyton, On behalf of New England, here’s a bottle of Rhode Island made American Single Malt Whiskey for you to enjoy on February 7th….Also, sorry for addressing the package to your wife, we heard that’s the best way to get something to you. I can only hope the Bronco’s rebuttal will simply be a win on Sunday.
  3. Elevate the game. Manning didn’t win five MVP awards and Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year by settling. He’s a Type A leader – continually striving for better. Not everyone is a leader, but everyone has the ability to make a difference and contribute to their team’s success.
  4. Be likeable and have a sense of humor. Without question, Manning is one of the most liked players in football. How can you dispute likability when he’s top of the bobblehead charts? Being able to laugh at himself probably has a lot to do with it. Take, for example, the United Way Saturday Night Live skit. One of the best sketches of the decade along with little bro Eli Manning and Tom Brady – all top five athlete skits. So, don’t be so serious! Instill some laughter in your workplace. Make it fun for direct reports. And, just be nice. And respectful. Even in the face of defeat or frustration. You’re not going to get what you want by treating others poorly. That doesn’t instill respect, it breeds a dysfunctional workplace.
  5. We love an underdog in sports, but in life it’s tough to get up when you’re down. When sidelined, you either have to reinvent or give your wounds time to heal. Injured Manning took a back seat to Brock Osweiler, the Broncos backup quarterback, for a good chunk of the season. That may have been frustrating and humbling, but ultimately necessary for the team to make the playoffs.
  6. Don’t call it a comeback. Every career ebbs and flows. Manning has come back from injury time and again. Could this Sunday be the final knock out? Maybe. But, Manning is the king of comebacks—then again, so is Brady. Both he and Brady lead the NFL in fourth quarter comebacks. Sunday’s fourth quarter could be epic. Check out these top 10 Manning video clips on nfl.com.
  7. Be a mentor. Clearly Manning has rubbed off on Brock You’d think Osweiler would have some pent up hostility after four seasons in the NFL and not starting a single game until this season. But, not so. His interviews and actions on the field (i.e. “Omaha!”) are representative of a true Manning protégé. Moral of the story, being a mentor pays off with team successes. It takes time, patience, and humility to let your protégé shine, but it’s an investment all organizations should make.
  8. Be a leader. Manning may be riddled with injury and his arm inconsistent and questionable at times. Even so, he can step on the field and transform his team. He bleeds leadership. It’s seeping from his pores. Maybe that can’t be learned. Maybe it’s inherent. Point is, if you have it, use it. There are lots of rookies out there who lack experience and need a hand. Instead of seeing them as competition, help them find their strengths and share your knowledge. Above all, lead by example. Follow through on commitments and exceed expectations whenever possible.
  9. No whining! Manning doesn’t whine – he’s not a “crybaby.” He doesn’t unjustly throw fits and whine to get his way when mistakes are made on the field. Take ownership for your actions, their consequences, and–even if a bad call is made—don’t dwell on it. Get up and convert that fourth down.
  10. Protect your family (and your personal brand). Put your family first. Careers can suck you in. Climbing the ladder becomes an obsession rather than a necessity. Rarely do you see Manning’s family in the spotlight. They are protected from the media and this also protects his image. We wouldn’t know if he’s married to a supermodel because you never see her (he’s not by the way). Point is, family should come first, but let’s be real. There are times when work takes priority and has to. Just remember who will be there for you when the game is over.

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