I’m not a Giants fan. I’m not really an Eli Manning fan either. I mean, I don’t have anything against him, but I wasn’t one of those fans who took it personally when Eli was benched, ending “the streak.” But I did watch that situation unfold through the lens of my interest in leadership.
Every week in NFL post-game interviews, you see players and coaches pointing fingers – laying their losses at the feet of others – from who couldn’t catch the ball to the official that made the wrong call. Not Eli Manning. Quarterbacks are widely regarded as the leader of a football team – they are the ones credited with leading a team to a Super Bowl Championship…or not. In the midst of poor performance all season, the Giants opted to sit the person who is arguably responsible for many years of success. Most would assert their contract guarantees, go on a rant with the media or blow people up on Twitter.
Eli Manning presented an alternative approach. If you watched his interview right after the news broke, he was visibly emotional, yet took the high road, and in doing so, presented three important lessons for leaders in managing adversity.
- Stay out of the bunker – when times get tough, leaders have a tendency to “go into the bunker” – avoiding media, and tough questions in general. The character, and often the legacy, of a leader is established in the face of adversity, not in the celebratory victory lap. No doubt many will remember Eli Manning for his Super Bowl rings, but I’d bet many will remember him for this moment.
- Maintain perspective and a broad view – True leaders don’t make situations about them. It is always about what is best for the organization, and the path forward. Eli Manning recognized the opportunity for the organization to develop other players, and in his public statements, took a broad view of the situation. Easy to say. Tough to do.
- Pivot, and Put the Success in Succession Planning – Eli Manning didn’t “call out sick” to the game, protest the decision publicly or otherwise disrupt the progress of the team. He rolled up his sleeves and committed to preparing his teammates to do his job. So much of the discussion about succession planning is about the board having a process and identifying the talent. But really, the critical component in smooth succession is the involvement of the current leader in preparing his or her replacement.
Eli Manning is a class act. And he might just have a second career opportunity as a leadership coach.