Tom Brady and Eli Manning will square off Sunday as the quarterbacks tasked with leading their NFL teams to a championship.
Brady of the New England Patriots and Manning of the New York Giants both possess many leadership and athletic qualities that have led them to this. However, one of the primary attributes of a quarterback is in-depth knowledge of his teammates, and in particular their receivers. That knowledge allows them to play at the highest level and make the people around them better – an essential leadership skill in football or business.
Brady, who threw for 5,235 yards and 39 touchdowns in 2011, must know his receivers and their strengths, where they want to receive the ball and how they are best equipped to gain an advantage on the defence, whether that is through speed, jumping ability or strength. The way a quarterback gains this knowledge is through practising different scenarios and also having in-depth conversations with these receivers to establish a personal connection.
Brady's favourite target this season, the relatively short and elusive Wes Welker, is a rare breed who prefers to run across the field and make the tough catch. He finished 2011 with the fourth highest number of receptions in a single season in NFL history.
Brady can expect Welker to gain some additional yards after the catch. Deion Branch, on the other hand, is a more traditional wide receiver who can run a wide variety of routes including the deep pass.
Manning, who threw for 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns as his offence ranked last in the NFL for rushing yardage, favoured Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, each of whom racked up more than 1,100 yards.
This pair of receivers divided the defensive secondary and created match-up problems due to their distinct advantages. Nicks, a third-year receiver, is one of the bigger and stronger wide receivers in the NFL, and he is able to use that and his jumping ability to be a big-play threat down field. Cruz is more of a traditional "possession-style receiver" who accumulates yards after catches due to his athletic ability.
When Manning is throwing to either, he knows their distinct advantages on the defence and how to exploit these core capabilities.
Understanding their receivers through conversation, combined with constant practice, have benefited both quarterbacks. It takes time to develop a deep relationship. In the case of Manning and Nicks, it was not until the end of their first season together that they began to really appear in sync.
When Brady and Manning take the field Sunday, they will be armed with many distinct athletic and leadership skills (including strong throwing arms, poise and determination), but also a detailed knowledge of their teammates and their strengths.
Karl Moore is an associate professor with the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University. Devin Bigoness is project director for Duke Corporate Education at Duke University.