‘Manning’ problems

  • Published
  • By Col. Chris Crawford
  • 21st Space Wing commander
I am not a sports analyst, but I can tell you one thing for certain: the Indianapolis Colts were terrible this year. Throughout the season, many asked "why?" How could perennial playoff contenders fall so far, and fall so abruptly? At first I (naturally) assumed it was because they weren't drafting enough Alabama players, but I soon came to be certain it was a common failure of leadership. It was a common leadership trap that we could all fall into, and one which deserves to be highlighted lest the wing make the same mistakes.

Here's the bottom line: the Colts relied too heavily on one man. They relied almost completely on one strong, talented on-the-field leader and built their entire organization around Peyton Manning. When that leader was unavailable, they failed.

Manning was an extremely hard worker and a football guru. He knew how to make the right offensive play calls, taught receivers exactly what routes to run, and delivered passes with deadly quickness and accuracy. In retrospect though, Manning, the team front office, and coaches did not teach his teammates how to take over in his absence. To use a well-known analogy, he caught many fish, but never taught his receivers and his back-up to fish on their own. He taught them to rely on his hard work, his knowledge and his talents.

It's easy to draw parallels between a quarterback and the hard working leader in a shop, squadron or group. The leader, similar to a quarterback, must read challenges limiting progress. They must develop a plan to overcome obstacles and lead their team past opposition to the goal. They must do so within time constraints and often under pressure.

We've all worked with leaders who are exceptionally hard workers and subject matter experts, but who fail to delegate and teach. They are the ones who dig in to "get the job done" and "answer that tasker," but who fail to utilize their Airmen and NCOs in the process. They are "pulling a Peyton" and allowing their team to be overly reliant on their talents. Worse, they are also misusing their Airmen by not growing their potential as team members and future leaders.

There's a distinct difference between telling people exactly what to do and teaching them the "hows" and "whys" so they can lead themselves. Those who fail to teach, those who simply direct, are not effective leaders. This leadership method can lead to mission failure or at best mission degradation, when they depart. That's an unacceptable outcome in both injury-prone football leagues and PCS and deployment-prone militaries.

How can the Colts recover? Clearly, they can start by drafting a talented quarterback to back-up Manning (Andrew Luck, perhaps?). More to the point though, they must adopt a more balanced teaching and draft approach from now on to ensure they don't fall into the same trap behind their next outstanding quarterback. Both Manning and the coaching staff must ensure that the team is prepared to deal with unexpected scenarios, and that both primary and back-up quarterbacks are able to execute the same offense. They must build enduring processes and plan for the future. Put bluntly, it can no longer be a one man show.
The one man show is often successful, but it is always a short-lived triumph. A successful team requires a no-kidding team effort where all involved have overlapping responsibilities and expertise. All must know how to get the job done, and all must be included by their leadership. A leader should be a hard worker and an expert, but they cannot allow themselves to become indispensible.

With any Luck, the Colts will heed this advice and be better next season. I ask you to heed this advice as well. Don't let any office in the 21st Space Wing ever have the same "Manning" issues as the Colts. In the business of national defense, we can't go 2-14 and get another shot next year.