With just a few more hours left until the NFL kicks off a new season with a rematch of Super Bowl 50, let’s take a look back on what happened the last time these two teams met and two of the League’s best Quarterbacks and leaders squared off!


With the buzz surrounding Cam’s post-game interview, Beyoncé’s halftime performance, and the best and worst commercials finally over, reviewing Super Bowl 50 from a different perspective provides a few good lessons on leadership. Observing the performance of Peyton Manning and Cam Newton I was reminded of the wide range of leadership styles that can influence a team’s success. I was also reminded that the best teams have leaders who are able to adjust their styles to adapt to their environment and their teams’ needs at the time.

Reflecting on the game I can’t remember a Super Bowl between two opposing quarterbacks who contrasted more in both substance and style than Cam Newton and Peyton Manning. At one end of the field was Cam Newton, a charismatic leader who had been a lightning rod for controversy all season. Scrutinized for his attitude, his dancing (dab on ’em!), his choices of clothing and his off-the field relationships Cam garnered an enormous amount of attention each week. Although his athletic, play-making abilities were obvious, his leadership abilities were decried by most analysts and critics across the sport.

At the other end was Peyton Manning a 5-time NFL MVP, a Super Bowl MVP, and a 14-time Pro Bowl selection. Hailed as one of greatest quarterbacks of all time Manning was a celebrated leader. He was a proven winner. For many Manning was a model of how a quarterback should carry himself both on and off the field. Even his demanding style of leadership which earned him the nickname ‘The Sheriff’- was praised by many.

The 2015-2016 season was memorable for both quarterbacks. Hampered by multiple injuries Manning suffered through the worst statistical season of his career. He played in only 9 games and many questioned whether he should be the starting quarterback as his team advanced into the playoffs. While Manning struggled, Newton delivered his best season ever. The eventual league MVP, he combined his physical talent with his charismatic leadership style to orchestrate one of greatest seasons for a team and a quarterback in NFL history.

Two quarterbacks two different styles of leadership. Both leading their teams in the Super Bowl. That’s why I love sports! Regardless of the environment, the type of competition or the industry here are some lessons about leadership we can take from Peyton and Cam that can help each of us during our leadership journey.

  • Be aware of your preferred style – Like Cam and Peyton each of us of has a “default” style. That is the style of leadership that we have relied on in the past, one that we are comfortable with and that has worked for us previously. While this style may have worked in the past, not every situation is the same. In different ways throughout the season Peyton and Cam had to adjust. Adjusting your style is part of what makes a good leader. It is important that your style is appropriate for the people around you and the situation. Remember the saying “if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”. Analyze the situation and adjust your leadership appropriately.
  •  Get feedback on your leadership – Being in the public eye on a national stage the two quarterbacks never had to search too long or hard to get feedback. Feedback is critical to your leadership effectiveness. While you may not agree with what you hear or read, at least be open to it. The people around you have a perspective that you do not have and it may helpful to increase your awareness by hearing from them and deciding if you need to adjust.
  • Surround yourself with the right people – The success of your leadership depends on people around you who complement your style and help you execute your vision. Both Peyton and Cam were surrounded by teammates, coaches, assistants, and managers who were available to help improve the performance of the individuals and the team. Make sure that your leadership style leaves enough space for people to support you and challenge you. While you may not like or agree with everyone make sure that they feel comfortable giving input and sharing their points of view. Remember the goal is to win so find people who can help you!

Leadership will always be a challenge. Relying on a style that has made you successful in the past may not be enough to create success in the future. Take stock of your leadership style. Decide whether it is helping or hurting our ability to reach your goals. Recognize that leadership intent does not equal leadership impact. Take time to understand the stand difference.

Looking at the leadership of Cam Newton and Peyton Manning reminds us that leaders have a wide range of styles that can lead to success. If you are willing to take an honest assessment of your style, your impact and your environment to you may discover new opportunities for improvement. And improvement is what leads to success. Try to improve your leadership every day. Although incremental improvements might not be enough get you to the Super Bowl, at least they can help you get to the playoffs. And that’s not a bad place to start. Let the games begin!!!