I grew up in Colorado, where my brother played for both the Colorado Buffalos and later the Broncos. I am a huge fan of the team, but this article is about a person, not the game of football or the Denver franchise. I was a fully sponsored elite athlete throughout childhood and perhaps what I admire about Peyton Manning (who's fortieth birthday is today!) is something I have seen, experienced and now pull from in my own life as successful business woman and athlete. Being an entrepreneur requires the same grit and depth of character it takes to compete at the highest levels. There is something held deeply in common between the athlete and the entrepreneur. Yet, not all athletes are admirable, as can be seen from Cam Newton’s lack of humility to the Super Bowl loss, and nor are all entrepreneurs admirable. To follow is a list of Peyton Manning’s outstanding character traits that put his leadership a cut above the rest.
Effective leaders are humble. They take ownership of their mistakes as opportunities to learn. When leaders showcase their own personal growth, they inspire the growth and learning of others; by admitting to their own imperfection, they make it ok for others to waver as well.
Peyton empowered his teammates to lead in their respective roles. Through empowerment, he not only facilitated the development of the team but he modeled the humility of perspective taking; an open-minded trait so critical to working effectively with diverse personalities. Off the field, he appeared modest and unimpressed with himself. He was approachable and viewed himself as a regular person. This humility allowed others to connect and identify with him as a human being, not just a football superstar.
2. Work ethic.
Great leaders are constantly developing their personal values. Peyton was involved in the consistent study of the game. On the sidelines he was hardly ever seen standing and waiting to get back in on offense. He was consistently on the bench looking over plays and studying. It is this type of deliberate attention to self-improvement that developed the core values which made him an effective leader.
Peyton’s high expectations of himself, his concern for the community and the acknowledgement of the responsibility he bore to his team put him in the constant striving to make himself better every day, which in turn, encouraged those around him to do the same. Personal values that are clearly communicated, consistently put into action and shared among team members provide the unity necessary to accomplish any task, goal or mission. A leader’s vision may establish the destination, but it is the mutually shared goals and values nurtured within the team that determine the outcome.
3. Coach and coachable.
There was a lot of noise around bringing on Gary Kubiak to coach the Broncos and work with Peyton, yet it proved fruitful. Peyton, although a consummate expert, was coachable. Coach-ability requires trust; trust from coach to player, and from player to coach. To be coachable, a person must be able to see there are things they need to do that they cannot do on their own. Only an unpretentious person can learn the most important things they need to learn, which often requires changes in their outlook or behavior.
Peyton, like any great leader, would take what he learned and teach. He was known to set up unscheduled practices with key players to work through glitches and discuss plays. His teammates were motivated to be accurate in practice so they could be a part of the offensive plays. They knew they had to prove their devotion to the team and the game if they wanted Manning’s attention on the field. Peyton bore the burden of the team and encouraged his teammates to pay attention to the way they were running and where they were looking, so he could get the ball to them. As the leader, Peyton took responsibility for the bigger picture so his teammates could focus on the detail that would lead them to victory.
4. Mental focus.
Emotional responses are natural, but managing them is a skill every entrepreneur should take notes on and master. Great leaders are level headed, and Peyton was exemplary. He never threw tantrums, on or off the field, and never cut corners in any way. He managed his emotions well. He has the ability to respond mindfully with the mental discipline to focus on what is directly in front of him.
The ability to respond responsibly allows a leader to rise above their reactive emotions. When people react, chances are they overreact. Psychoanalyst and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl eloquently stated that “choosing our response -- our attitude -- to any situation is the only true freedom we possess.”
Peyton had the ability to stay connected to the moment.
The most powerful force in success isn't greed, fear, or even the raw energy of unrestrained competition. The most powerful force in success is caring. Great leaders are not competitive with their team. Rather, they engender an open-door policy with their time, and an open-hand policy where they freely share their knowledge. They enjoy giving credit to others even when they could rightly keep it for themselves. Caring is what propels careers forward. It gives work meaning and significance. Leaders know that, as they help others to become the best they can be, they become better themselves.
Peyton was all about the team. He was gracious when receiving acknowledgement, but deflected credit for wins as a team effort. Peyton was as caring off the field as on. He has been known to write to fans and keep in touch with those who have influenced him. His Peyback Foundation is only one way in which he gave back. His involvement in the community was a major driving force for how many supported who he was as a person. His caring, family-oriented values made everyone, on or off the field, feel a personal connection to him.
Peyton’s career was not a perfect ride. His neck injury and being released from the Colts left many thinking his career was over. Peyton’s resilience and hard work to rehabilitate his mind and body helped him overcome these hardships. Like other great leaders, Peyton had the ability to respond effectively in times of great adversity that required his honesty and courage. Great leaders are not successful in spite of their setbacks; they are successful because of them.
Even after the disappointing loss against the Seahawks in a previous Super Bowl and other clutch losses, he made the decision show up and be present. Whether it was a major loss or a possible career ending injury Peyton was able to reframe the event and manage it with resiliency, giving him the opportunity to re-engage on his own terms and in his own fashion. Every entrepreneur must have courage to show up, especially when they may be hurt, disappointed or embarrassed. Peyton did this time and again, and ended his career victorious.
Peyton has strong family values and an intense dedication to his spiritual faith. Leaders need leaders, and there is no stronger way to be led than to have a power larger than oneself to support and guide you unconditionally. All leaders have a strong sense of faith in common.
“I pray every night, sometimes long prayers about a lot of things and a lot of people, but I don’t talk about it or brag about it because that’s between God and me, and I’m no better than anybody else in God’s sight.” Petyon Manning.
Thank you Peyton Manning, for inspiring me. You are inimitable.