Leadership Playbook

Archie Manning on Sports, Leadership and Being a Wing Guy

Part of the quarterback’s job is to tell everybody to shut up. He has to call the play, bring out the players, and start the play. People often think of the quarterback as the guy who screams and hollers and takes charge and shows the crowd ‘I’m in charge here.’ I’ve seen some very stoic quarterbacks who are calm and just go about their business. Hall of Famer Bob Griese was such a guy who took the Miami Dolphins to two consecutive Super Bowl wins. He wasn’t like the Chicago Bears’ Jim McMahon, who head-butted with his offensive linemen and went around telling people how great he was. He probably was great. But I don’t think leadership is about telling people you’re the leader.

Archie Manning, New Orleans Saints, 1978

I got into football in the sixth grade. The team was made up of sixth, seventh and eighth graders. As quarterback, I had to bring those guys out of the huddle and I was two years younger than most of them. In the huddle, the quarterback has to be the one who talks.

There is a charisma attached to leadership. Ronald Reagan had it. So did Vince Lombardi and Don Shula, coaches I admire, as well as quarterbacks Johnny Unitas and Fran Tarkenton.

I played for a great coach, Bud Grant, who had a saying: “It’s all between the ears.” When you get to the pro level, the skillsets are not all that different among teams. But those that win have it in their heads that they’re going to win, that they can win, that they’re better. The coach’s job is to get in the heads of the players and not only work them to where they physically can do their jobs, but also motivate them to where they feel accountable to do their jobs and to help one another work together as a team.

At the end of the day, the great coaches are not only great motivators, they’re great teachers. Probably one of the best was a guy named Chuck Noll, who led the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl victories. He coached for 20-some years, and he was always teaching, whether football techniques or working as a team.

Sports is a phony world to live in. It sets players up and puts them in a position of power. A professional football player focuses on the team and on winning games. It’s a huge time commitment that takes away from family and other things. Often a sports career is over before the player anticipates it being over. He gets hurt and can’t play. His skills diminish, or a new coach comes in and doesn’t think he’s a good player. He gets cut. He’s not ready or prepared for it to be over. It’s a tough transition to start over. I call it “the first life” and “the second life.” It’s a different world after football and a lot of players don’t prepare well for it and have a tough time.

The average length of a pro career is 3.5 years. Eli is going into his 12th year with the New York Giants. Peyton was hurt in his 14th year with the Indianapolis Colts, the only time he’s ever been hurt, and they got someone else. He had a really good career there. Fortunately a lot of teams wanted him, so he had a choice. He’s facing a big decision right now, trying to decide whether to retire or continue to play.

There are commonalities between football and business: dealing with adversity, building a team, dealing with success, making big decisions, developing leaders, and keeping it going. Whether it’s a football team or a business, the top three skills needed for leadership: You must think like a leader; set goals like a leader; and act like a leader.

Playbook for Leadership

Coaches want people who are fun to coach, who are accountable, show up every day and do their job. There’s a great saying in football that is also a great saying in business: “Do your job. Do your job.” A coach tells this to each person on the team; so does a company leader who makes you aware of your role and what is expected of you.

I’ve always had a theory in football. Have fun. I still tell my kids this before every game: Have fun.

I’m a wing guy. That’s my favorite Super Bowl snack. The majority of people who watch the Super Bowl are not watching their favorite team in the game, so they want to see a good game, and this year was a great game. I thought it would be close. I’m not very good at predicting, and I did predict the Patriots to win. My wife would say that was one of the very first times I was right!

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About the Author
Archie Manning played for the New Orleans Saints from 1971 to 1982, then for the Houston Oilers and Minnesota Vikings. The father of three sons, including Broncos Quarterback Peyton Manning and Giants Quarterback Eli Manning, he is a commentator for CBS Sports’ college football broadcasts and is the owner of Manning’s, a football-themed restaurant in New Orleans.