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Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

Three Things Leaders Can Learn From Peyton Manning

Denver Broncos’ Peyton Manning celebrates after the NFL Super Bowl 50 game against the Carolina Panthers Sunday. Denver Broncos’ Peyton Manning celebrates after the NFL Super Bowl 50 game against the Carolina Panthers Sunday. David J. Phillip/Associated Press

It wasn’t a great game, but it was a win. For Peyton Manning, it was, in all probability, his last as an NFL quarterback. After 18 years of the sacks, injuries and surgeries that come with a career in the League, the soon to be 40-year-old Manning managed the Broncos’ offense well enough to enable its defense to win the 50th Super Bowl.

There are Peyton Manning fans and Peyton Manning haters. Personally, I don’t have strong feelings about him either way but I found a lot to admire in Manning in how he conducted himself in preparing for and playing the Super Bowl and what he said after it was over. There was a lot there that I think anyone could learn about how to handle yourself as life catches up with your talents and skills.

Know your role. Time and injuries caught up with Manning this year. He was benched for several weeks in the regular season to rehab an injured foot. The Broncos kept winning while he was out and a lot of commentators thought Manning would not be back on the field. When he did come back in the last game of the season, it was with a different approach. You could argue that, in spite of his successes, Manning lost playoff games and Super Bowls in past seasons by taking too much on himself and forcing game-losing interceptions and fumbles as a result. In the last few games of this year, Manning dialed his own role back and allowed his team to carry more of the load. He didn’t throw for a touchdown last night. The Broncos defense scored more touchdowns than the offense did. They won the game because Manning didn’t try to play beyond his current capabilities.

Accept things as they are. By all accounts, Manning was able to accept his new role because his mindset shifted while he was out of action during the regular season. As he told Sports Illustrated’s  Peter King  after the Super Bowl win, “I’ve just had a real peace this year. I didn’t know how it was going to work out. I didn’t know what was going to happen. But I’m at the point … I’m okay with that.” Of course, Manning did all the work he could do to be ready for the game, but he accepted that the final outcome was not solely in his hands.

Be grateful. At the end, Manning sounded like a guy who was sincerely grateful for the people who had helped him along the way. It’s been reported that his pre-game speech to the Broncos focused on encouraging the team to pay attention to and be grateful for all of the anonymous and unsung people in the organization who make it possible for them to do what they do. In his interview with CBS’ Tracy Wolfson immediately after the whistle blew, he talked about the “Great group of teammates, great group of guys I got to play with, I just feel very, very grateful,” and how important it was to him to “reflect on all the coaches, family members and friends who helped you get to this point.”

Is Peyton Manning perfect? No, none of us are but the self-awareness, acceptance and gratitude he’s demonstrated over the past few weeks are qualities that would serve just about anyone well. Whether you’re closing a chapter in your career or not, it’s always a good idea to operate with the grace that Manning has shown.

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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