Posted on Jun 07, 2012 by Tory Barron
Learning on the Run
Peyton Manning is an incredible athlete; I doubt anybody would argue with that. Yet, what many people don’t know is that he is also an excellent example of how to excel in an internship. How does an NFL quarterback and Super Bowl MVP possibly relate to the lowest person on the totem pole, you ask? Well, allow me to explain.
Peyton is a long-time friend and client of Kathleen Hessert (hence all the pictures of him adorning the office walls) and listening to her speak candidly about his remarkable journey to success propelled me to do a little research on the man who brought back so many W’s to the city of Indianapolis (IN) and soon to be Denver (CO). While rummaging through the files I discovered a speech he had given after his first winning season in the league. His speech “Learning on the Run” documented his journey beginning with his first ever NFL game, as a rookie thrown into the starting line-up who “hoped” he would complete a pass, to a stand-out QB who led his team to a record of 13-3 and a division title in only his second NFL season.
The driving message behind Peyton’s speech was that, as in football, no matter what business or profession you’re in today (in large part due to technology) you must be able to “learn on the run.” Static work environments don’t exist anymore. Employees need to think on their feet, make decisions, and cooperate more with their coworkers. The main thing I learned at Sports Media Challenge this week is the value of the ability to think on my feet in such a fast-paced industry.
In Peyton’s first 2 seasons in the NFL he had to learn a lot, and do it fast. A lot was expected of him, and he expected a lot of himself. A few days ago my boss told me I reminded her of Elle Woods in the movie “Legally Blonde.” What can I say, I like pink! Now this is not to say Kathleen dislikes the color pink (she thinks pink is a lovely color.) The point is there is a time and place for pink, but when you are a young person starting out in the professional world and desire to be taken seriously, especially in the sports world, it is important to consider how you are perceived in the public eye.
In a figurative sense I am embarking on a quest for success similar to that of the legendary football star. I am at the beginning of my journey and have everything to prove. As Peyton transitioned from someone with “great potential” to a verifiable all-star and almost sure Hall of Famer, he built his reputation from the ground up through his actions on and off the field.
In my brief time at SMC I have discovered that Peyton attributes his initial success to four skills that are essential to “learning on the run” or “winning” in the office:
Peyton states that the first essential tool to success is your attitude or how you respond to circumstances. We all have our fair-share of accomplishments and shortcomings; how we handle it and adjust is what sets us apart. That is what makes the difference. My first day in the office on week 1 (when it became clear that I was not prepared to complete the tasks asked of me and/or contribute much value to the discussion in Kathleen’s office) I was disappointed, maybe even a little embarrassed. Yet, I did not throw in the towel, pack up my bags, and head back to VA. Nor did I mope about how it was too hard (ok maybe a little bit to my mom,) but I got back in there and took action to ensure I’d never feel that inadequate again.
In his speech, Peyton states that “the risk/reward factor can be really high but we can’t fear failure. We have to become mentally tough enough to live through it.” I remember my high-school lacrosse coach pulling me aside at half-time of the regional championship game my senior year and saying “flush it” (Peyton calls it, “getting back to zero”). This is a phrase that has stuck with me ever since, and can be applied at the office. My coach didn’t mean that I should flush anything in the literal sense, but she wanted me to let go of the fact that I had just been stuffed by the goalie and move on to the next play. In the 2nd half of the game I scored 3 goals and we went on to win the game.
The point of this story is not to relive my glory days (although I’m certainly not opposed) but to show the importance of, in the words of Peyton, the ability to “learn from your mistake then let go of it fast enough so it won’t drag you down.” For a professional QB who throws an interception, a businessman who loses a sale, or a lowly intern who confuses “crowdsourcing” with “crowd-surfing,” the gist is the same: you’ve got to quickly refocus and get right back in the game.
Peyton has a self-proclaimed obsession for preparation. Considering all of his abundant success I will trust him on its importance. In his speech he notes that you know better than anyone else what your strengths and weaknesses are, and you must work on both. Sure it’s more fun to highlight your skills and participate in areas where you can look like Tiger Woods challenging some kids at a putt-putt golf course, but is that going to give you the edge? While it may be a nice confidence booster it won’t help you reach your full potential.
Peyton challenges people to make it their duty to know everything there is to know about their field. He states: “I don’t just focus on my job, I study the entire game and make it my business to know everything there is to know about our offense. Knowing the big picture helps me make adjustments during a game way ahead of most people.” Likewise, being informed in all aspects will help you make quick changes and capitalize on any opportunity that may come your way.
Today I have only discussed 2 of the key components of “Learning on the Run” (I will save “Knowledge Management” and Communication for tomorrow’s intern insight) but I hope my explanations of Attitude and Preparation, as defined by Peyton, have made it clear how his lessons from the football field can be translated into every endeavor from a summer internship to a great career.
What are some examples of ways you have had to “learn on the run” in your own internship?