“The most valuable player is the one that makes most players valuable.” – Peyton Manning
Of late, finding model leaders who embody leadership practices is a rather difficult task. As a loyal Denver Broncos fan, however, my search for an exemplary leader ends with former Broncos Quarterback Peyton Manning. Though Manning has been the focal point of criticism for inconsistent play, injury and rumors of retirement, the Broncos finished the 2015 regular season at 12-4, and won the AFC Championship and Super Bowl 50 behind his leadership. While 1st and 2nd Year Fellows have much to learn in the leadership arena, I believe Peyton Manning has already mastered the Five Exemplary Leadership Practices we are taught as El Pomar Fellows, as described by Kouzes & Posner in their book, The Leadership Challenge:
1. Model the Way – Peyton’s age, his fragility, his inability to play in poor weather: these are frequent points of discussion for his critics. Despite incessant negative media during the 2015 season, Manning continued to demonstrate his strong work ethic, belief in leading from within, and dedication to progress and improvement. Peyton said, “Remind your critics when they say you don’t have the expertise or the experience to do something that an amateur built the arc and the experts built the Titanic.” Teammate Emmanuel Sanders praises Manning for his commitment to the team, saying Peyton is “focused and ready to work, every single day.”
2. Inspire a Shared Vision – Toward the end of the 2015-2016 season, the Broncos adopted “it takes all 53” as their team motto, referring to the importance of every single roster member. Exemplifying this perspective is Peyton’s relationship with practice-squad wide receiver Jordan Taylor. As Manning recuperated from a foot injury, he recruited Taylor to be his throwing partner: while the rest of the team practiced with Manning’s replacement, quarterback Brock Osweiler, Manning threw hundreds of passes a day to Taylor. Though he never dressed out for a Broncos game this season, Taylor still played a vital role in the team’s success by aiding Manning’s recovery: “I don’t think I could have gotten through my rehab and gotten back if it had not been for [Taylor].” Manning instilled a sense of value and contribution in Taylor, and encouraged the team to dismiss selfish priorities and to keep their focus on the end goal: “It takes everybody to get where we want to go.”
3. Challenge the Process – In 2011, Manning underwent two neck surgeries to alleviate neck pain and arm weakness, missing the entire 2011 season. Despite his age and unpredictable recovery timeline, Peyton was confident in his ability to overcome the obstacles he faced in trying to re-enter the league. Manning was signed by the Denver Broncos in 2012, silencing the critics who believed he wouldn’t be able to play at the professional level again. “I played a different game this season. I can’t make some of the throws I used to, but I can move the chains. I’ve been flexible; I haven’t been stubborn. I’ve been able to adjust to a new physical state.” In order to accommodate his age and injury, Peyton’s game evolved to a relatively non-traditional style, challenging the widely-accepted mold of successful quarterbacks, demonstrating his willingness to embrace challenge and change throughout his 18 year career.
4. Enable Others to Act – While sidelined with the foot injury, Peyton continued to provide support and guidance for his replacement Brock Osweiler. Osweiler credited his injured mentor for helpful insight, specifically after the Broncos beat the previously undefeated New England Patriots. In empowering Osweiler, Peyton demonstrated his willingness to sacrifice personal accomplishment and his commitment to the team’s success.
5. Encourage the Heart – Peyton is quick to deflect credit to teammates, coaches and family. Football arguably has the most disproportionate distribution of due credit of any sport: key players are frequently left unmentioned. From Peyton’s perspective, however, it is crucial to remember “you can have the swagger of a winner, but never be convinced that your greatest accomplishments are made alone.”
While Peyton made the decision in March to retire from the NFL, few football fans would disagree that his exemplary leadership has been a major proponent of his (and the Broncos’) success. Manning’s leadership style clearly encompasses the five best practices defined by Kouzes and Posner, and he serves as an excellent example of the correlation between success and strong leadership.
If nothing else, El Pomar Fellows leave the Foundation understanding the value of strong leadership. Like Peyton, if Fellows can embody these same five principles in our future leadership roles, our communities are bound for great success.