Montana-Batman… Omaha! or What Peyton Manning can teach us about communication. leadership broncos

By now, most people who follow football (along with those who try NOT to follow football but can’t get away from it) are familiar with the Denver Broncos’ Peyton Manning’s use of the word, “Omaha,” as part of his string of audibles.

I confess (at my peril, since I’m sitting here in my Denver office) to not being a fan of football. It’s not that I’m against the Broncos, I’ve just never been that interested in football. Until now.

I had heard several stories about Manning’s skill in directing his team by using a crazy-sounding string of words that seem to make no sense to anyone but his team. Curious, I parked myself on the couch last Sunday to watch the AFC Championship Game. Fascinating. Here is a guy who talks non-stop, never missing a beat, using words we know but in ways we don’t understand, to get a group of other guys to do exactly what he wants them to do. Again and again. When asked what “Omaha” means, Manning responded this way:

“Omaha is a run play, but it could be a pass play or a play-action pass depending on a couple things — the wind, which way we’re going, the quarter and the jerseys that we’re wearing. It varies really play to play. There’s your answer to that one.”

Wow, really? How is this possible?

As a student of communication and human interaction, I propose two answers to that question: communication, and practice. Make that three: communication, practice, and practicing communication.

This stuff doesn’t happen by accident. The same words and actions that happen in a game happen over and over in practice. Communication is key. There is no time during a game to say, “sorry, could you repeat that last part?” Every team member must be present, ready for the play, and ready for the play to change in the moment. They practice and fail… and practice and learn… and practice and succeed. I think they’re on to something.

So, what can Peyton Manning teach those of us who go to work in an office instead of on a football field? Six things:

  1. Trust your team and earn their trust.
  2. Be clear about your goal.
  3. Establish a common language.
  4. Communicate relentlessly.
  5. Practice until you excel, and then keep practicing.
  6. Go out and kick some butt.

Montana-Batman… Omaha!