You probably know Peyton Manning as the Super Bowl-winning quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos. Or, as a funny, down-to-earth spokesperson for Mastercard, Direct TV, and Papa John's pizza. Perhaps you caught his comedic side on Saturday Night Live?

In all three contexts, Manning is well-known for his discipline, methodical planning, flawless execution, and philosophy of leadership. It's not surprising--he spent 18 seasons leading NFL teams. It's a little surprising, however, how well he articulates his method into principles we can all follow.

I've now seen Manning speak to large audiences on several occasions. I've spent time with him backstage, too. It's allowed me a rare glimpse into these three lessons on how leaders can win at work:

1. Lead by example.

Manning defines leadership as the ability to influence others. "If you can't influence your teammates," he told me once, "you can't lead them." And the only way to influence them is to gain their trust.

When Manning entered the huddle at the Rose Bowl as an 18-year-old college freshman at the University of Tennessee, he told his older teammates about how he believed he could lead the team down the field for a touchdown. A 6' 5", 350-pound lineman grabbed him and said, "Shut the blank up and call the blanking play." He said, "Yes, sir," and called the play. And kept his mouth shut until he had earned their respect.

You don't gain respect with speeches and barking orders. You gain respect through leading by example. For Manning, that meant he was the first person in the weight room in the morning, the last person off the practice field at night, and always watching game film to prepare. Eventually, he gained the respect of his teammates--and they listened when he said something beyond a football play.

Be the first one to work in the morning, the last one to leave at night (especially when there are problems at work), and always do your homework. By showing your team that you're willing to go the extra mile, people will listen to you when you demand more of them.

2. Seek out mentors.

One of biggest mistakes you can make as a leader, Manning said, is thinking you have it all figured out. Always seek out coaches and mentors to get better.

Manning was one of the most successful quarterbacks in NFL history because, in part, he kept himself open to feedback. Each offseason, he would visit his old college offensive coordinator, who would treat him like he was an 18-year-old college freshman--not an MVP quarterback.

The coach would go over the fundamentals that Manning had "learned" long ago, and yell at Manning when he didn't execute. Of course, Manning would get angry--just like he did when he was 18--but, he says, ultimately realized that staying open to coaching was important.

Hire a professional coach. Or, be like Manning and seek out a former coach or mentor--someone you trust who can give you honest feedback about your leadership.

3. Be a master observer.

If you want to be a game-changer, Manning told me, you need to become a master observer. Manning credits "over-preparation" for much of his success. Specifically, it was his observation of the small details that helped him and his team win--especially when he had to overcome injury and learn how to play on a new team. He would spend endless hours off the field, watching film, observing himself, his team, and his competition so he could lead well.

Be keenly aware of yourself, your team, and your competitive landscape, Manning said, is vital for any strong leader. First, focus on identifying the real strengths of your team and what are the weaknesses. Then, focus on your opponents and ask the same questions. Finally, focus on yourself.

When observing himself, Manning always asked three questions:

  • What are the things I do well?
  • What are the things I have to do to help the team win?
  • What are the things I may not be as good at anymore?

Answering these questions gave him the data he needed to focus on to lead better.

By practicing these three leadership lessons, Peyton was able to lead two different teams to Super Bowl championships. What do you imagine you can accomplish if you follow the same lessons?

Published on: Jan 25, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.