In the Huddle: How to Succeed Like Peyton Manning

Fran-Email (1)By – Fran Tarkenton

The arc of a professional football player’s life is unique. The average NFL player’s career lasts for around three years. After spending your whole life working hard to get to that point, it can end in the blink of an eye. A player who is “retired” at age 27 has decades of life ahead of him—and probably doesn’t have millions of dollars in the bank, either.

Even players with long careers retire at a relatively young age. I played 18 years in the league, and my last game was at age 38. At age 76, today I have lived as many years after “retiring” from football as I did before.

This past weekend we saw Peyton Manning announce his retirement at age 39, after 18 years in the NFL. I’ve watched his football career since the beginning, so of course I was interested in watching his retirement press conference for that reason, but there was more than that. Peyton Manning is not going to rest on his laurels for the rest of his life. He is going to do something, whether it’s in football or media or who knows what, and both from what I’ve seen of him over the years and what he demonstrated when he retired on Monday, he is going to be very successful at it.

I think Peyton exemplified some important building blocks of success that transcend football, and that we can all apply to our lives and our businesses (yes, even if you’re a Patriots fan).

First, he talked first and foremost about how relationships with other people helped him along the way. There was family. He talked about all his coaches. He talked about his many great teammates. He talked about opponents who drove him to get better.

None of us can succeed on our own. We need other people. Relationships—whether it’s family and friends, employees and partners, mentors and mentees—make all the difference. I learn everything I know from other people, and the more great relationships you have, the more you learn.

Second, Peyton emphasized how important preparation was for his career. He wasn’t the biggest guy. He wasn’t the fastest. He wasn’t the strongest. He didn’t have the best arm. And as he got older, when he won a 5th MVP award and a Super Bowl, he might have been the slowest quarterback with the weakest arm in the entire league. But he achieved so much success because he prepared more than anyone. He was always studying, always learning. He obsessively studied game film. He paid close attention to everything happening on the field while he was on the sidelines. And that preparation extended all the way to the second he called for the snap, as he watched the defense and made adjustments on every single play.

Success requires a plan. In almost every situation, you can’t just decide to do something, then right that instant walk out the door and give it a try and expect to be very successful. You have to prepare and plan. If you don’t even know where you’re going, or what possible routes there are, how will you ever get there? When you put the effort into preparation and planning, suddenly the doing isn’t such an uphill climb.

Third, Peyton showed respect for everyone. He didn’t talk badly about anyone in his speech, and he didn’t overlook anyone during his career either. He respected everyone and treated them well, no matter whether it was the owner, the head coach and the star teammate or the equipment manager and the practice squad player. This week I read a piece by one of his Denver teammates, linebacker Brandon Marshall. He was a second-year player who had been released three times by the Jaguars. He signed on with Denver’s practice squad, and on his first day with the team, Peyton Manning went out of his way to introduce himself, treating the new practice squad player equal to a veteran starter. Marshall wrote about what a difference it made in his career.

The way we treat people matters. In business, I have found that when you have a culture of respect and treat everyone well, from the superstar employee to the newest hire, everything is better. Culture wins. And culture starts with the leaders, whether it’s Peyton Manning leading a football team or the business owner leading his team. Treat people with respect, and it’s contagious. They’ll treat each other and everyone else with respect, and work hard to help people and get things done right.

No matter what you’re doing, when you focus on relationships, preparation, and respect, you’re on the right track. You’re giving yourself the best chance to make a difference and succeed. These are virtues that you will see repeated over and over again if you look at the most successful people, whether it’s on the football field, in business, or in life in general. Follow their example.


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