Peyton Manning Puts Premium on Preparation

AUSTIN, Texas–Two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Peyton Manning outlined eight “go-to plays” for success in remarks to an overflow audience of credit unions here.

Speaking to PSCU’s Member Forum, Manning, the first overall pick of the 1998 NFL Draft and the holder of numerous NFL records, drew comparisons between his career in football and the challenges faced in the business community during his remarks. Manning also participated in a Q&A, which is reported further below.

Feature Manning

While he is well-known for calling out “Omaha” during games, Manning said ultimately it isn’t speaking but listening that can be the critical difference-maker.

Manning noted the amount of time an NFL game is being televised is just a fraction of where most of a player’s time is spent. It’s practice as well as preparation that are the key drivers of success, he stressed throughout his remarks. 

How does one develop a winning mindset? 

“You have to work the plan,” said Manning. “Our job starts with knowing better, but it has to end with doing better. Leaders have to distinguish between the noise and the truly important signals and act accordingly.”

To that end, Manning offered what he called his “go-to plays for success,” including:

Be Fast, Flexible, and Fluid

“Constant change is the new norm in business today. Members have new demands for service,” he said.

Manning was famous for doing homework and he shared that he knew not just his plays, but every offensive and even defensive players’ assignments on plays. But that doesn’t mean success is guaranteed, as he still holds the NFL record for interceptions by a rookie with 26. “I pull every year for these new rookies to break it, I’m not going to lie,” he joked.

What lesson did that teach?

“At some point you are going to have to come from behind,” Manning said. “When that happens, my advice is to play smart, not scared. How? By relentless preparation. I never left a field feeling I could have done more to prepare myself, regardless of the outcome. The teams I was on, our best players were our best practicers. Preparation was where I always thought I could get an edge. I couldn’t out throw anybody, I certainly couldn’t outrun anybody, but I could out-prepare others. Ask yourself, what are you willing to do to be a better leader, better organization?”

Manning Speaks

Peyton Manning speaking to PSCU Member Forum in Austin, Texas.

Embrace Disruption

Manning called disruption and “integral part” of growth,” and said leaders must embrace it. 

“Technology is changing how the game is played,” he told credit unions. “Players have chips in their shoulder pads that tell a coach how much a player is running in practice. There are smart helmets now that tell medical staff if a player has had a severe hit. You know what the game-changers are in your business; one way or another disruption changes the way organizations think.”

Be Resilient and Learn to Pivot

Manning said one of the best pieces of advice he ever received came from his father, Archie Manning, himself a famous NFL quarterback with the New Orleans Saints.

“The advice from my dad was about getting back to zero,” said Manning. “He said, ‘After a bad play, learn from it and then erase it from your mind.’ You can let setbacks paralyze you. You have to tap your inner defiance. The great competitors I know, when they are scorned, they came back with a vengeance.”

Although he joked several times about not being known for his speed, Manning said it remains critical to be able to pivot. (He joked that a coach told him once he couldn’t run out of sight in a week.)

“You can pretend obstacles don’t exist,” said Manning. “Whether it's football or running a credit union, you can’t pretend they aren’t there.”

In his own case, he said being able to pivot meant finding a way to return to the game (and a new team, the Denver Broncos) after four neck surgeries caused him to miss a season.

“My wife, Ashley, gave me some advice. She said, ‘Just learn to use your mind in a different way.’ To win, sometimes you have to be willing to abandon old routines.”

Master Decisiveness through Courage, Instinct, and Preparation.

In the NFL, Manning said, the pressure is toughest when a team is in the lead, and the same holds in business. 

“When you prepare meticulously you should be able to bank on making fast-twitch decisions in high pressure situations,” said Manning.

As an example, he cited the audibles quarterbacks call at the line of scrimmage to change a play.

“On TV it may have looked frantic and spontaneous, but the truth is I practiced every audible I ever called, and I practiced it with my teammates,” he said. “Winging it is never a good idea. It doesn’t stop people from analyzing your decisions. Each choice is going to test a leader’s mettle, but a winner, a leader, has the confidence to stand alone and the compassion to listen to the needs of others.”

Manning said his own decision-making process is:

  • Be thorough
  • Make lists
  • Ask more questions than most people can bear
  • Say a prayer on it
  • Trust your gut

Develop Deep Communication Skills

Citing the “digital revolution” that was a frequent topic during the PSCU Member Forum, Manning said communication skills have become more important than ever.  

“You have to be able to combine great ideas with communication,” he said. “It all begins with mastering the art of inquiry. Then listen carefully to the answers, even if you don’t want to hear them. Words have incredible strength, so does silence. Leaders are supposed to ask questions. If you can’t solve a problem from every possible angle, I don’t think you’re prepared to lead. When circumstances make people uneasy, are you a champion of hope or doubt?”

Manning said that very few people start out a leader and the mantle must be earned. What leadership is about, he said, isn’t authority, but the ability to influence others. “It’s about mastering the art of persuasion.”

Manning added that includes the ability to communicate across the five generations that are in the workplace today. He recalled he had one teammate in Denver, a wide receiver, who told him he had been four years old when Manning was a senior at Tennessee. “He told me he watched me on ESPN Classic. I never threw him a pass that year,” Manning laughed.

Never Stop Being Coached

Manning was famous for not only not objecting to coaching, but constantly seeking it during his career.

“Ask yourself, are you as good today as you are ever going to be?” he told the meeting. “It’s how good you’re going to get that really counts. There are people who believe they can just hack their way to success, that they can take shortcuts. But it takes hard work and a coach to unlock your potential. It is important to embrace continuous learning. Nothing stays static. You have to acquire new knowledge and fresh perspectives. Everybody needs a coach, including those at the very top.”

Master the Art of Teamwork

Manning said being a part of a team is one of the things he misses most about football. 

“Teamwork is a we thing, it’s not a me thing. How your team survives and thrives depends on embracing the collective over the individual,” Manning said. “When we surround ourselves with people who are better than us, they elevate us in the process. We rise up because we don’t want to let them down.

Manning Young

Dean Young of PSCU and Peyton Manning during Q&A.

“I have been most proud of calling myself teammate,” he continued. “In my 18 years in NFL I cannot escape the sting of the two championships that got away from us. But I will also never forget the feeling of holding that Lombardi trophy over my head, and then passing it to my teammates.”

Questions & Answers

Following his remarks, Manning participated in a Q&A with Dean Young of PSCU. Here’s what was discussed:

Young: What do you miss most now that you are in your third season away from football?

Manning: I don’t miss getting hit. But I do miss being a part of that team. Football is the ultimate team game. There are 53 guys on the team, you do everything together. I miss the plane rides, especially after a win. The next time you’re on a flight and the flight attendant says this plane cannot take off until everyone is seated and cellphones are turned off, that’s just not true.

Young: Where did you develop the preparation muscle and how did you keep it so fresh?

Manning: My dad gave me a quote when I was 14 from (former Pittsburgh Steelers Coach) Chuck Noll that said, “Pressure is what you feel only when you don’t know what you’re doing.” You shouldn’t feel pressure if you prepared as hard as you could. Is it OK to get nervous? Yes, I think it’s healthy. But I never felt pressure.

Young: What is that ‘Omaha’ all about?

Manning: (Manning explained that increasingly powerful microphones for the TV broadcast were allowing other teams to hear quarterback calls and to prepare for plays). Omaha had no super-cool story; it was just a trigger word that meant we had changed the play. It was a rhythmic three syllable word. I got to tell you I’m a big deal in Omaha, Nebraska now. I got the key to the city and some steaks out of the deal. 

Young: As a rookie, how did you get respect of veterans in Indianapolis?

Manning: Very clearly, I had not earned the respect of these new people on my team. So, I called it silent leadership. I got up from every hit, tried to take responsibility for my play, and I earned their respect. You can’t rush it. 

Young: Who were your favorite mentors?

Manning: There were many. Besides my dad, Tony Dungy in Indianapolis had a very unique style of language. He never raised his voice. He treated you as a professional and you wanted to play hard for him. He always wanted you to take care of the little things and then everything else would take care of itself.

Young:  Who hit you the hardest?

Manning: Ray Lewis (of the Baltimore Ravens). When he retired it was the happiest day of my life. I sent flowers to his press conference. He would always tell me he’d be back in a few moments. 

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