5 Leadership Lessons from Peyton Manning


Playoff time has arrived, my friends. Regardless of what team you might be rooting for, I don’t think anyone could argue that the Denver Broncos are having an impressive year. At the forefront of this franchise is the one and only Peyton Manning, QB extraordinaire.

You could say I’m a little bit of a Peyton Manning fan. I know I’m not alone. I live in Indianapolis, home of the Colts, where Manning led the team for well over a decade and brought our team back from near-obscurity.

But now he’s with the Broncos….sure, it was a sad day in Indy when he left, but I think a lot of Colts fans understood the succession-planning move by letting him go. And I’d have to say people are pretty pleased with the new kid on the line of scrimmage, Andrew Luck. (Sidenote: Did anyone see that Colts/Chiefs game the other night? What a win!)


But this one is about Peyton. Over the years, Peyton Manning has demonstrated impressive leadership qualities; both on and off the field.  Regardless of what your role is in the learning industry, or whether you are a even a football fan at all, there are 5 simple leadership lessons you can apply:

1. Know your craft, inside and out.

Who will go down in history as the “greatest QB of all time”?  There are a number of opinions on that one. But few players are students of the game like Peyton Manning. On the sidelines, you will see Peyton studying plays, reading the defense, anticipating what will happen next. Off the field, he watches film and studies his opponents to a degree that few match.

How well do you know your role? Your team? Your company? Your industry? Your customer? As learning professionals, I think we can all agree that there is always something to learn.

2. Be open to coaching and feedback.

I often wonder what a coach thinks about being Peyton Manning’s coach. Like a trainer leading a classroom full of SMEs, wondering, “What am I going to teach these people that they don’t already know?” But if you see Peyton on the sidelines with his coaches, you often see communication and dialogue. It’s a mutually respectful relationship.

Even after being in our field for many years, we should always be receptive to feedback – whether about how we facilitate, develop content or lead teams.

3. Don’t let setbacks or mistakes define you.

Peyton Manning will not go down in NFL history books, remembered for throwing the occasional interception. He won’t be remembered (negatively) for his neck injury, multiple surgeries or being released by the Colts. He will be remembered as a consistently impressive performer on the field. As a philanthropic member of his community. As an intelligent, well-spoken person who represented his team with class.

The point here? Even when your project or role doesn’t progress the way you anticipated, don’t let that define your career path. Learn from the mistakes and move past the setbacks.

4. Raise the bar.

Just like I wonder what it’s like to be Peyton Manning’s coach, I also wonder what it’s like to be a teammate. I mean – you’re out there with Peyton Manning. How does that NOT motivate a player to do his best?

How are you raising the bar on your team? Do you motivate others to do their best?

5. Have fun and don’t take yourself too seriously.

Let’s face it. He’s a funny guy. We cracked up watching him host Saturday Night Live, and he has been on more television commercials than I can list. The guy has a good sense of humor, and can poke a little fun at himself.

That’s important for a leader. Lighten up – have a little fun!

So whether you’re a facilitator, instructional designer or training manager…or maybe you’re not even in the learning field at all…consider these leadership lessons and what you can bring to your role, team and organization.

And while I’m certainly okay with Peyton and the Broncos doing well in the Playoffs, I must end with this:

Go Colts!!


Breaking the Rules: Innovation and Interaction for Leadership Development Programs


Note: This past Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending the fall conference for the Central Indiana chapter of the American Society for Training & Development (CIASTD). Not only was I able to attend, but I also had the honor of presenting.  This post is a recap of that session. If you attended this – my sincere thanks for spending a little time with me!

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that my style isn’t exactly conventional when it comes to learning. My career has been largely shaped by the opportunity of bringing learning experiences to the workplace, and I refuse to believe that those learning experiences have to “look” a certain way. As I began preparing the content for this session, my intent was to “represent myself” with phase(two)learning, rather than presenting on behalf of the day job.

You know, building brand awareness and all. :)

But I quickly realized my examples and talking points were coming directly from the new Leadership Development initiatives we have been implementing at the day job, and I was excited to share those, soooo…I just pulled double-duty on the representation.

The session title was “Breaking the Rules: Innovation & Interaction in Leadership Development Programs”. I was thrilled to see standing room only for the session! Conference attendees had several terrific topics to choose from during that time slot, so the fact that so many made the decision to spend a few minutes talking about Leadership Development was awesome.

Speaking of time slots…I was given the dreaded “right-after-lunch” time slot. When I saw the schedule a few weeks ago, this pretty much sums up my reaction:


(Okay, maybe I just wanted an excuse to share a pic of my adorable nephew, Logan.)

Despite the less-than-ideal time slot, I am proud to report that noticeable yawning was minimal, and no one fell asleep.

Did you know that U.S. businesses spend over $170 billion-with-a-B per year on leadership-based curriculum? Much of this is spent on leadership training.

Those of us in the learning biz know that training, education, learning and development are all different things. But from this statistic, it’s clear that many, many people don’t realize the distinction.

We don’t always need to be training our leaders, but we do need to be developing them.

Training often focuses on best practices. Development should focus on next practices. What’s next for me? What’s next for our team? What’s next for our organization? What’s next for our customer? What’s next for our industry?

You get the idea.

Leadership development programs will vary, depending on culture, people, needs, etc. Regardless of the myriad of differences, successful leadership programs often share 3 qualities:

Learner Motivation – Participants WANT to be involved. They take ownership of their development and are motivated to discover what might be “next” in their career paths.

Program Quality – A well-planned program and engaging content is a must. There must be a long-term strategy, not an ad-hoc hodgepodge (yes, that’s the technical term. Hodgepodge.).

Manager Support – A participant’s direct manager needs to be involved in the process, from providing ongoing feedback, to coaching, to helping his/her emerging leader to build relationships up, down and across the organization. This also goes for upper-level managers and executives: They need to be engaged in the program, endorsing its value and simply getting involved.

During the session, I challenged attendees to brainstorm in teams how they could facilitate leaderhsip/learning with methods they were provided. Here are a few photos from flip charts they used to record their discussions:




The slide deck from this session can be found here:

CIASTD session – Breaking the Rules

In the deck, you’ll find a number of other progressive ideas that we have recently implemented at the day job in our new leadership development program. If you have questions or would like to chat further about the, drop me a note or leave a comment below!

Did you know?! This session can be tailored and delivered for your organization, conference or retreat! Check out phasetwolearning.com for more information, or drop an email with your questions!

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Organizational Hierarchy and the Training Department


In the corporate world, there is so much focus on where one falls in the grand hierarchy. So often, an employee is defined by his little block of real estate on the organizational chart. And, just like in traditional real estate, the rule is often the same:

Location, location, location.

The higher one falls on the org chart, the more influence that person likely has (or is perceived to have). And teams fall in clusters across that org chart, reporting up the chain in different places. Regardless of the company, industry or job, chances are many of us can relate to this scenario in some way.

So, where should a training department logically fall in the landscape of an organization?

Throughout my career, I have worked for companies where training was centralized and reported to an Operations department. I have also worked for a company where training was a bit more nomadic; our team was shuffled around several times until they eventually found the most logical “home” for us (yes, it was a confusing time…we actually referred to ourselves as Training Gypsies). I have also worked as a one-woman show, providing training support for a specific department, reporting to the director of that department; there was no training “team” at all. An army of trainers existed throughout the company, each supporting a different department, but there was no consistency or solidarity…but it did make us all deep subject matter experts in our respective areas.

In my current role at the day job, our team falls under the Human Resources umbrella. This, of course, has its advantages and disadvantages:

Advantage: We report to the EVP/Chief Human Resources Officer, who reports directly to the CEO, so we are visible to decision makers at the top.

Disadvantage: We report to the EVP/Chief Human Resources Officer, who reports directly to the CEO, so we are visible to decision makers at the top.

(Don’t act like you don’t know what I mean by that)

So, where SHOULD a training team lie in a company’s structure? The answer is, there really isn’t a single answer. Companies are different, so the natural “fit” of a training team will vary. The key, regardless of your team’s “home base,” should be this:

Build strong relationships UP, DOWN and ACROSS your organization.

Seek out your stakeholders and subject matter experts, and seize every opportunity to engage leaders at all levels. At the end of the day, it shouldn’t matter where your “org chart real estate” is located…just make the most of your space.

Your turn: Where does your role/team fall on your company’s organizational chart? What are the advantages and disadvantages you have experienced? Be sure to leave a comment – your thoughts are always appreciated!

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A Lesson in Influence…from Ashton Kutcher?


Lately, I’ve been all about breaking the rules. Getting people to think outside the box. Trying new things in the classroom. And this week, I learned something:

If you don’t have influence, none of it really matters.

Over the past few days, in a social feed near you, you may have seen links to a video clip of an actor, Ashton Kutcher. Now, maybe you know of this guy…the guy from Punk’d. The guy from Two and a Half Men.  The guy from That 70’s Show.

Yeah, him.

At first glance, it’s not unusual to see him making headlines. After all, he’s a pretty popular guy. At the time of this writing, he has over 14 million Twitter followers, is getting ready to release a movie about Steve Jobs, and stars in a highly-rated TV show (I’ll spare you any post-Charlie Sheen “Jump the Shark” commentary). And let’s be honest, he’s not bad to look at either.

But what was THIS video clip all about? After seeing a couple dozen posts, I finally caved and watched it. I’m so glad I did. The video was from his acceptance speech after receiving a Teen Choice Awards (the program aired earlier this week). Not exactly a credible source for leadership development, eh? Once Ashton took the stage, and got past the eardrum-piercing screams of thousands of teenage girls, he started talking.

And what he said impressed the heck out of me.

I’m not going to write about it; I encourage you to take a moment and just watch the video yourself at the end, but I will say a few words:

As learning professionals, we talk about being advocates for learning in our organizations. Assessing needs. Sharing recommendations and best practices. Being a trusted advisor to the business. But none of that means a darn thing unless we have influence. Whether your audience is one person, or in Ashton’s case, a room of thousands, we need to recognize and leverage the opportune moments we are given to influence up, down and across our organizations, to bring learning experiences to the workplace.

Watch the video here:

Your turn: How have you used your expertise to influence people and programs in your organization?  What challenges have you faced…and how did you overcome them?

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In Learning, It’s Okay to be a Rule-Breaker


I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. When it comes to developing learning programs, I’m a bit of a rule-breaker. There are smarties out there who have developed complex models on how adults learn, where adults learn and why we should follow these rules.  I respect them. And sure, they have merit. But the rigidity is where I’m left shaking my head. Every organization is unique. People, industries and priorities vary. How can we expect this one-size-fits-all approach to be effective?

Today, my mind goes to the humble training session.  Namely, mind-numbing training sessions, where PowerPoint reigns supreme. Tell me, how can a facilitator believe that spewing dozens of wordy slides at participants equates a learning experience?

Not long ago, I was talking to a colleague about this very topic. He told me about some creative things his team was doing, which sent my mind spinning. At the day job, we had been considering some “different” learning events to shake things up in our new leadership development program.  It left me thinking…

Who says we can’t do something different?

That “something different” meant hosting a leadership development discussion. Nothing new, right? Well…

We’re hosting it in a bar. A local brewpub, to be exact. Who says people can’t talk about leadership over some microbrews?

The proprietor of this brewpub will be joining us, and giving a brief talk about the evolution of their brand. Their commitment to their customers, particularly as advocates for their brand. Their involvement in the community. What their brand meant to him in the beginning…and what it means to him now. And then, we’ll draw some comparisons to our organization, and what lessons we can take back to our world.

I could easily gather a roomful of participants in the office, throw a few slides up on the screen, and talk leadership. Brand advocacy. Customer awareness. And we might have a pretty darn good discussion about it. But, a year from now, will those participants necessarily remember it? Maybe. But then, maybe not.

Will they remember the time the L&D team hosted Leadership Happy Hour, where we met at the brewpub and sampled some drinks and talked candidly about our brand? You betcha. Creating memorable, meaningful, relevant learning experiences is our job, friends. It’s okay to think outside the box and try something new.

Your turn: How do you facilitate meaningful learning experiences in your organization? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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3 Little White Lies Your New Employee is Telling You


Have you ever attended a meeting or training session, when the leader or facilitator asked, “Does anybody have any questions?”

And you do, in fact, have questions. But you don’t ask.

I think we’ve all been there. For one reason or another, we don’t always speak up when we are unsure about something. Or maybe we don’t feel comfortable admitting that we don’t already know what we’d like to ask. Call it insecurity, or wanting to look like we’ve got it all together, but we walk out of those meetings and training sessions without clarity, lacking information that would make our jobs easier.

Now, friends, let me ask you. Has this ever happened to you when you were new on the job?

Chances are, at one point or another, it has. Have you misled your boss into thinking you understand something, when really, you’re full of questions? Put yourselves in their shoes, hiring managers. What question is your newest team member NOT asking?

The title of this post might have made you think I was going to write about lying on one’s resume…or a new employee leading you to believe he has “expert proficiency” with Microsoft Excel during the interview process, only to find out he’s a beginner. But that’s not where I’m going. I’m talking about little cues you can pick up on that might indicate your new employee is lacking knowledge, context or clarity. Here are three to consider:

1. “I don’t have any questions.”

Like I said before, sometimes a new employee just doesn’t want to admit weakness. That he isn’t fully understanding what’s going on. As hiring managers, co-workers and trainers of new employees, we need to see beyond the lack of questions and anticipate the questions that they might have…or don’t claim to have.

What’s the solution?

Offer an abundance of easy-to-use resources that will help new employees learn and locate information on their own. Create job aids, post FAQs, encourage dialogue through social platforms. Leverage channels that work for your team and organization. The key is to make it easy. The idea is to provide answers and clarity…not to add to the noise and confusion.

2. “I did the same thing at my last job.”

Even though people know that a new job will be different than their last one, we still compare experiences, tasks, resources, and even people, particularly when the role is similar. While this isn’t necessarily a lie, it does give us an opportunity…

That opportunity?

Provide context. It’s our job as facilitators of learning (that includes you, hiring managers) to help new employees understand the company. Understand the dynamics of the team. Understand the expectations of his role. It’s all about making it real and differentiating this job from the last one. In time, your new employee will put his past behind him. Until that day comes, you need to be there guiding his new path.

3. “I can do this on my own.” Productive autonomy sends a signal of competence. New employees want to hit the ground running. They don’t want to be be micromanaged, and they certainly don’t want to appear like they aren’t able to get the job done. It takes a leader who is tuned in to the needs of his team, to understand the balance of stepping back…and stepping in.

How can you offer support?

As a wise man once said, “Stop, collaborate and listen.” Take a lesson there, friends.  Listen to your employees. Connect them with others for projects, when it makes sense. When it’s more logical to work independently, encourage them to do so, ensuring they have the necessary tools and resources available. But all along the way, through collaborative and autonomous work, you should be communicating regularly with each of your employees, particularly your newest ones. Give context. Set expectations. Ask questions. Provide (and request) feedback. Keeping the channels open from the beginning will only lend itself to stronger relationships for the long haul.

Just like a parent must look beyond the “half-truths” their children dish out (as a mother of two, I know a thing or two about that!), leaders and facilitators need to look beneath the surface of what our newest team members are telling us. It’s not that they are actually “lying” to us. They are in a delicate position of proving themselves and demonstrating proficiency…when they are simply trying to figure it all out. Understand that. Accept that. And then do something about that!

Your turn: How else can leaders create an environment that enables new employees? Share your thoughts in the comments below…

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3 Questions Every New Manager Should Ask

new managers need to build a foundation of trust

When people think of “onboarding”, many people often think of “orientation”.  Even the most seasoned learning professionals are guilty of this!  If you’ve read this earlier post, you’ll remember that we explored this topic, but it bears further exploration…

Orientation is part of onboarding, but not all onboarding is orientation!

So, let’s think beyond the basics…what happens during a new manager’s first few weeks?  After he goes through any standard orientation activities, and he is settling into his role?  While he is trying to make connections and learn about his team and manager?

During the first week, the new manager is being introduced to the company, the team, and the expectations of his new role.  Once the pleasantries are exchanged, it’s time to start doing something about the team structure! With his team, a manager needs to explore these three questions:

1. Where have we been?

There are a number of questions that the team can answer to provide clarity and context to a new manager.  2-3 days prior to a team meeting, the manager can submit questions like these to the team and encourage them to ponder the topics.  They can bring answers or just be prepared to discuss at a team meeting.

  • What words can describe our team’s history?
  • What are some major achievements our team has accomplished?
  • How was our team “born”?
  • What are some challenges the team has faced in the past?
  • How did the team overcome those challenges?

Before a new manager can adequately assess his team, he needs to know the origin of the team and gain understanding to “why we are the way we are”.

2. Where are we today?

Unless the manager is coming in to develop and lead a brand-new team, he needs to gauge where the past has brought the team and consider the current state of the team, individually and collectively, as well as projects and initiatives that are currently in progress.  Some questions the team can discuss include:

  • What are the team’s strengths?
  • What are the team’s weaknesses?
  • How do we bring value to the organization?
  • Who are our customers?
  • How do we bring value to our customers?
  • What are the organization’s top priorities/objectives right now?
  • What are OUR top priorities today?
  • How do our priorities align with organizational objectives?  Or do they?

A new manager needs to know how his team is perceived in the organization.  As he gains context about these perceptions, only then can he craft his strategy to move forward.

3. Where are we going?

Making progress.  In the book, The First 90 Days, the author states the importance of diagnosing the team’s current situation, and determining what immediate challenges should be addressed right away.  It is crucial to deliver results in the first few months on the job!

Once the manager has gathered relevant info from the team, through both team and individual meetings, he can work with his own manager to determine priorities, obstacles and outcomes.  When executed efficiently, these outcomes will build early credibility for the new manager and for the redefined team.  This also sets a precedent for open communication, proactive leadership and trust.

Where are we, and where are we going?  It’s something that every new manager needs (and deserves!) to know when he takes the reins of a team.  Is there a way you can build something into your onboarding program to enable new managers to facilitate these conversations?  Can you provide the tools, resources and encouragement?  I’d love to hear your ideas, and how you have worked with new managers in your organization.

On a personal note…

In the spirit of the holiday season, I hope you have been enjoying a wonderful season with those dearest to you, full of love and laughter.  Thank you for your continued comments, shares, emails and creativity.  Here’s to a successful, prosperous 2013!  Cheers!

– Michelle

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