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October 19, 2018

INSIGHTS 2018: Lessons in leadership from Peyton Manning

The legendary two-time Super Bowl champion shared what he learned about leadership from his illustrious football career, and how each of us can apply his learnings to our own careers.


On the final day of INSIGHTS 2018 in Las Vegas, an excited crowd was treated to a keynote from a living sports legend – two-time Super Bowl champion Peyton Manning. The former quarterback mixed self-deprecating humor with important lessons he’s learned through football about how to develop a winning mindset.

Manning referenced Ceridian’s own values of customer focus, transparency, diligence, optimism, and agility, and how essential those values are “on and off the field.”

Be fast, flexible, and fluid

Manning talked about the transforming world of work, and how fast things are changing – in football, technology, and every other industry – and how we need to be agile to adapt.

“At some point, you’ll have to come from behind,” he said, and playing smart through diligent preparation can give you an edge on the competition. Always look for the little things that could make a difference – for example, the team would have loud music blaring during practices to mimic the sounds of the opposing team’s crowds.

He talked about the importance of being fluid and able to adapt to different situations. “Don’t ever let up until that final whistle blows,” he said.

Be resilient and learn to pivot

Manning mentioned his father, Archie Manning, several times – his hero, who was also a professional football player. One piece of advice his father gave him was, after a bad play, “You’ve got to get back to zero.” Meaning, erase the bad play from your mind, and don’t let setbacks paralyze you. It’s a great lesson that can apply to any aspect of life or work.

He also talked about the need to remain nimble and take on whatever life – or the marketplace – throws at you. He gave the example of his multiple neck injuries that eventually led to him missing a season. He explained that he had to come back from that injury and adapt to playing with a new physical state. “To win, sometimes you have to abandon old routines,” he said.

Preparing for the audibles

Manning was known for calling audibles – changing the play at the line of scrimmage. However, he said that every audible he ever called was planned and rehearsed – he was never winging it. He was able to assess the situation, realize he needed to go in a different direction, and because they were well-organized, he had the full backing of his team to make the call. It’s a great lesson for businesses in being both adaptable and prepared.

Part of that preparedness is becoming a “master of inquiry” – “ask the right questions, to the right people, at the right time,” he said. Leaders are supposed to ask questions, and if you don’t know how to solve a problem from every angle, you’re not adequately prepared.

Never stop being coached, he said, as leaders don’t stop learning the basics. No matter how good you are, it’s how good you’re going to be that matters. We always get better or worse – we rarely stay the same, so focus on continuous learning.

Master the art of teamwork

“Individual talent doesn’t guarantee a victory,” he said, emphasizing the importance of teamwork. He talked about one of his favorite moments when he got to pass the Vince Lombardi Super Bowl Trophy to his teammates, because it symbolized how they worked together to achieve the win.

Before a Q&A with INSIGHTS host Caleb McEwan, Manning left us with a parting thought – “We often stop because the effort to win is greater than what we want to exert,” he said. But it’s only a feeling. Change your limits and extend them beyond what you thought were your boundaries.

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