Peyton Manning doesn’t need much of an introduction. Whether you’re a football fan or not, you’ve got to respect his hustle: Considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, with a career spanning 18 seasons of play, he’s the only quarterback in history with Super Bowl wins under his belt from two different franchises. Not only that, but he’s been named MVP five times – more than any other NFL player – and holds the record for career touchdown passes. To top it off, he’s a consummate philanthropist: His charity, the Peyback Foundation, is dedicated to providing opportunities to disadvantaged and at-risk kids.
With so many accolades squirreled away in his trophy case, it’d be easy to assume that the friendly, easygoing Manning you see off the field is only a fabrication. As far as I could tell from seeing him speak at a recent boot camp, though, the man is frustratingly faultless. Luckily, as a born leader, he is also eager to share his wealth of knowledge with others. Here are three of the top leadership strategies I learned from the retired football icon and how to implement them in your life and business.
1. THE 4 KEYS TO BEING A TOP PERFORMER
At his peak, Manning was one of the few individuals in the world to truly reach that lofty pinnacle of being the absolute best at what he did. Asked what got him there, he cited an attitude founded on four primary pillars for success.
Whatever field you’re in, he says, “You certainly gotta have the ability.” But, of course, that’s far from enough. “You gotta combine that ability with a strong work ethic. You hear about it in sports all the time: ‘hard worker, just not very talented’ or ‘super-talented, just not a very hard worker.’” If you cultivate both traits, he argues, that’s what will set you apart from the pack.
And then, what will drive you a notch higher is your passion. “You gotta love your job. [My brother] Eli and I always used to kid – we’d never tell the owners this – we would play for free, ’cause we loved football that much.” If you lack that fire for what you do, he adds, “it’ll show up somewhere.”
The final component, he says, is a sense of accountability. “That’s what always kind of drove me, that people were counting on me – coaches, teammates, fans. You don’t want to let them down.”
2. DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Manning had a reputation for being one of the most consistently prepared quarterbacks in the NFL. By all accounts, the sheer level of detail he would put into his game plan was second to none.
When asked what steered him toward this habit, he has a pretty straightforward answer. “I always felt that preparation was where I could get an edge on the competition,” he says. “I couldn’t outthrow anybody, I couldn’t throw at 75 to 80 yards down the field. If you’ve ever seen me play, you certainly know I couldn’t outrun anybody; I had a coach tell me once that I couldn’t run out of sight in a week – that was nice. But I thought that I could out-prepare anybody, and so that’s what I based my game plan on.”
When he was growing up, he says, his dad was always providing him with the wisdom of sports leaders. When he was 14, his dad gave him a quote from Chuck Noll, then-coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers: “Pressure is something that you feel only when you don’t know what you’re doing.” It’s okay to get nervous and excited, Manning says – that just means you care about your work. “But pressure means you haven’t done your homework.” It’s easy to get bored of the fundamentals, he says, but their mastery will be what leads you to victory.
3. LEARN FROM YOUR MENTOR’S EXAMPLE, AND THEN LEAD BY IT
Manning was fortunate to be coached for years by some of the most skilled sports leaders in the country. But one of his greatest influences was the legendary coach Tony Dungy of the Indianapolis Colts. “He had a very unique style of leadership,” Manning says. “Never raised his voice. Never used any kind of language, but he treated you like such a professional that you just didn’t want to let him down.”
According to Manning, Dungy peppered his coaching with a lot of pithy little expressions, things like “Take care of the little things, and the big things will take care of themselves”; “Expectations, execution”; “No excuses, no explanations.” “He was just as calm in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl as he was out there at practice every day. When your leader is calm, the rest of your team following can be calm as well.”
The best leaders, Manning says, walk the walk as well as they talk the talk. Pay attention to the habits and advice of those you admire, implement them into your own practice and success will always follow.