Teams work best when leaders earn their colleagues’ respect by taking responsibility for their own mistakes and respecting every member in the group, NFL Super Bowl champion and Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning told a keynote crowd today at the Retail Industry leaders Assoc. (RILA)’s annual conference.
There is no shortcut for building that strong team dynamic, but once it’s complete it creates a strong product. “Having 53 players on an [NFL team roster] is the ultimate bonding, camaraderie, fellowship experience,” Manning told moderator Bill Rhodes, the chairman, president and CEO of AutoZone Inc. during a session at the LINK2023 show in Orlando.
One example of a leader who followed that pattern was Tony Dungy, Manning’s coach with the Indianapolis Colts. Dungy demanded a lot of his teams, as shown by his motto “Expectations, execution. No excuses, no explanations,” Manning said.
Despite setting those high expectations, Dungy motivated his teams without raising his voice. “He treated you like you were such a professional and respected you so much as an individual that he never had to put pressure on us; you just wanted to go out and play hard for him,” Manning said. “And he was always as calm in the fourth quarter as he was in the first quarter; it’s easy to be calm in a stressful situation when your leader is calm.”
Although that approach sounds simple to describe, Manning admitted that he’d had to learn the concept of “silent leadership” through some tough lessons after acting too brashly as a young college quarterback at the University of Tennessee. When his coach sent the player into his very first game as a freshman in 1994, Manning admitted that he rushed onto the field in a hurry to show leadership in the huddle. “I know I’m just a freshman, but I can take us down the field and get us back in the game,” Manning said he told his 10 teammates. In response, a hulking offensive tackle grabbed the future champion by his shoulder pads and said “Hey freshman, shut the [blank] up and call the [blanking] play.”
Manning said he quickly absorbed that lesson and adjusted his approach. “Whether you’re a quarterback, a CEO, a manager, or a president, leadership is the ability to influence others. But those guys did not want to hear what I had to say until I had earned it.”
Today, Manning has traded those shoulder pads for a sport coat as he embarks on his post-football career in the business world. The athlete now runs Omaha Productions. Named after the quarterback’s famous “Omaha!” shout in the huddle whenever he would call an audible to change the team’s offensive play, the startup is a production and media company that creates “uplifting, positive content that celebrates hard work and community,” he said.
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