Peyton Manning knows a thing or two about success. As one of the most legendary quarterbacks in the history of football, he’s reached heights few of us can ever hope to match, regardless of our field. When looking at a career as storied as Manning’s, it’s tempting to attribute his dominance to sheer innate talent and maybe some kind of preternatural work ethic. Certainly, if you ask him, he’ll tell you that these two are essential ingredients to any kind of outsized success. But there’s a third factor that we tend to overlook from the sidelines, one that has tremendous implications for our roles as business leaders: the influence of those who coach us along the way.
Speaking at a recent conference I attended, Manning said something that really stuck with me. “I think you always need to be coached,” he said. “Whatever level of success anyone in this room has reached, someone’s gonna hit a plateau. We need a coach to unlock our full potential.”
No matter where we’re at in our work and lives, it’s vital that we seek out folks to keep us accountable and moving forward. Luckily, I found Manning himself to be an invaluable resource in that regard. While he’s not about to sit down with me one-on-one, he definitely left us with a few key lessons we could all benefit from.
1. RECOGNIZE THAT YOU DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING.
It’s easy to balk when you hear a quarterback with two Super Bowl wins and five MVP awards under his belt tell you to remain humble in your self-perception, but it’s also telling. “I believe in mentoring and paying it forward,” he said, “but I also believe that we shouldn’t think we have it all figured out and that we don’t need to be mentored.”
Years back, Peyton and his brother, Eli, had a shared coach: David Cutcliffe, now the head coach at Duke University. Even after they’d entered the NFL, both he and his brother would return to Coach Cutcliffe and seek his insight and guidance to refresh and strengthen their fundamentals. It was “like we were 18-year-old college freshmen in college again, working on how to take a snap,” Manning says. Even as a 14-year all-pro quarterback, he continued to seek the counsel of his mentors on the most basic aspects of the game. “The point is that the little things do matter,” he said. “Keep being coached, and keep being evaluated.”
2. BE ADAPTIVE.
As CEOs and managers, we’re the “coaches” of our business teams. And the best coaches, according to Manning, are the ones who know the members of their team and consistently play to their strengths. For example, the best offensive coordinators that Manning played for “were adaptive in designing the offensive system … around the players that he had on the team that year.” Since Manning is not particularly fast, coaches wouldn’t structure their offense on a lot of running plays, for instance. Rather than trying to magically turn him into a faster runner overnight, successful leaders tapped into the things he was good at.
Rather than complaining about your employees’ faults, hone in on their talents.
“Design plays that your team can do,” he said. “Don’t put them in situations where they’re not going to be really comfortable and not going to be successful … Being flexible based on who’s in the room is a good way to coach.”
Rather than complaining about your employees’ faults, hone in on their talents. This will not only motivate and inspire those you work for, but it’ll also optimize outcomes in your business for the long haul.
3. PRACTICE SERIOUSLY.
When asked how he was able to consistently thrive under such incredible pressure, Manning cited a piece of advice he received early on in his football career: “Treat practice like a game.”
“Create those intense situations during practice, during the course of the week,” he said, “so that when Sunday afternoon or whenever that big moment comes around, you’re not overwhelmed by the moment.” At Manning’s practices, the team would always strive to maintain the same level of intensity they’d bring to a big game, from their own attitudes to the piping crowd noise.
“The biggest mistake people make in that mecca moment,” he said, speaking about the Super Bowl, “is to try to do something different from what they’ve been doing all season to get them to that point.” Find what works and cultivate it relentlessly, to the point that you and your team can do it in your sleep. “The competition’s going to be tough. It won’t be easy,” Manning said. “But there’s a reason you’re there in that moment … because you’ve had great success.” Keep doing those things while keeping a mind on your team, and further success will surely follow.