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Leadership lessons for life from Eli Manning

Eli was neither a conventional nor modern type of leader. Rather, he was a throwback to Medieval times, best represented by the chivalrous Knight, a Blue Knight for the “Big Blue Giants.”

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning walks off

New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning walks off the field on Nov. 23, 2017. Credit: AP / Patrick Semansky

As he has done ever since he became a professional football player, Eli Manning displayed his unique leadership style in reacting to being benched. His response to this shocking situation is a lesson for all who seek to lead others in any endeavor. But it is even more about how you take command in your own journey thorough life.

The modern study of leadership began with Niccolo Machiavelli who wrote “The Prince” in the 16th century. Thenceforth we have seen a growing tsunami of papers, articles, manuscripts and books on the topic, which is daily pushed in our faces by social media, blogs and websites. In my last years of teaching, I offered a seminar in leadership studies in which we examined various types of leaders, some ancient, some modern. Eli Manning’s case quickly came to my attention.

Back in 2007 to 2008, Eli was much in the news, his ability and leadership style coming into question. The issue was fully resolved when the Giants concluded a remarkable playoff run by defeating the mighty New England Patriots in 2008. Eli won the Super Bowl MVP trophy!

But his style puzzled me and confused media analysts and pundits. After much thought, I concluded that Eli was neither a conventional nor modern type of leader. Rather, he was a throwback to Medieval times, best represented by the chivalrous Knight, a Blue Knight for the “Big Blue Giants.” The strength of his character and leadership was rooted in knightly ideals of Fortitude, Courage, Prudence and Humility - all employed in a quest of self-development that is self-assessed.

Modern media couldn’t make heads or tales out of such a figure. Eli needed little outside motivation and never gloried in the fawning praise of others. He is his own quiet champion. Most important, this Knight leads by example. He stays the course, through good and bad, setting the example, sacrificing but not complaining.

Our society is used to fake leaders, using celebrity status to influence and blind the herd into thinking they have charisma!

Eli’s short YouTube clip in which he discusses his benching reveals all in the context of what is right and just. He could not accept the coach’s poorly considered, disrespectful offer to have him start games to keep alive his streak of 210 consecutive starts - and then put in a replacement. For Eli, and for anyone who takes things seriously, you play hard and for real. Eli declared that giving priority to the streak was an unworthy objective, unfair to the players or to him.

Moreover, he could not give less than his all, sacrificing his body as he did every day for 14 seasons. You can’t be a Knight on a quest part time.

In his private meeting with ownership, Eli passionately voiced his displeasure regarding his treatment. Any good Knight is a warrior, ready for combat.

But, true to the Knights code of honor, the next day Manning was at practice, taking his place on the scout team, the lowest rung on the professional ladder, surprising many teammates and media folks. In admiration, teammate Justin Pugh commented: “If we could all have a little bit of that in our lives, I think we would all take it.”

Fan reaction to the benching was livid. “I won’t burn my tickets . but I sure as hell won’t be there for the remaining games.” said one. Another claimed embarrassment at being a Giants fan.

This past Sunday, the Blue Knight was on the sidelines, as commentators used the widely heard awkward phrasing: For the first time in 13 years, a quarterback not named Manning would start for the Giants. All commented on his impeccable character. And even though Manning stated after the game that he hoped no one would be fired, coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese were let go Monday.

It is widely anticipated that Eli Manning will start next Sunday’s game against Dallas.

Most modern people do not believe, as Macchiavelli did, in being rewarded by Providence for a never-quit attitude. But, we need only look at Eli’s two miraculous Super Bowl wins propelled by unworldly catches, to see that Fortune can smile on those who merit her attentions. The Blue Knight became a Prince.

Life is unfair, but it is not unyielding. Good things can happen to good people. I would give strong odds that Eli, like his brother, Peyton, will find a second team to take to the Super Bowl. His quest is not over yet.

From this Blue Knight’s tale, take heed - especially young people - and learn a lesson about being your own champion.

Silvio Laccetti, Ph.D., is a retired professor of history and social science at Stevens Tech.

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