NFL Hall of Famer Joe Montana Returns to KC as Leadership Series Guest

Thursday, March 28, 2019
Joe Montana on stage with Rockhurst President and a student

It’s not without reason that Joe Montana is a legendary NFL quarterback and still one of football’s most legendary names.

Over the course of his college career at Notre Dame and his professional tenure — first with the San Francisco 49ers and then the Kansas City Chiefs — Montana demonstrated poise under pressure and personified drive to succeed nearly everywhere he went, leading to an impressive resume. Four Super Bowl victories, two NFL Most Valuable Player nods, three Super Bowl MVP honors, and eight Pro Bowl and five All-Pro selections. In 2000, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

It makes sense, then, that Montana would have more than a few lessons to offer as the featured guest of the Rockhurst University Leadership Series Tuesday about what he views as effective leadership, and how he sees that applied on and off the field.

In a morning question and answer session with a small group of student leaders, moderated by Denny Thum, ’74, a former Chiefs executive, and in his afternoon keynote, Montana candidly discussed the people and the experiences who shaped him. Phrases like “The Chicken Soup Game” or “The Catch” have a nearly legendary status in the context of Montana’s career. Montana himself maintained that leadership is not just about what one does to motivate others.

“If I’m asking more from somebody, then I need to give more of myself,” he said.

One of the keys to success, he said, is preparation, so when the big moments came, he and his team were more likely to be ready for them.

As a leader, Montana said he also looked to build trust, not to cast blame — if something didn’t go right, he said, he would often speak calmly and directly to his teammates to fix it for next time. Those two tenets, combined with a healthy work ethic, have helped him succeed both on and off the field.

The lessons Montana shared echoed those embodied by the joint winners of this year’s Rashford-Lyon Award for Leadership and Ethics, also presented during the luncheon — Tom McDonnell, ’66, and Tom McCullough, ’64. Together, this duo led Kansas City’s DST Systems from a fledgling spinoff of Kansas City Southern in an emerging field to one of the largest and most forward-looking mutual fund servicing firms in the country. They might have brought differing styles and approaches during their time at DST Systems, but are recognized for leading by example and by encouragement.

Those kinds of leadership qualities can lead to greatness. Despite his own towering legacy, Montana said he does have some minor regrets — one of them is losing the last regular season game during his time with Kansas City, forcing the team to play the AFC Championship on the road in the Buffalo, New York, winter. The other is not being able to play longer, especially with the Chiefs.

“I love my teammates here. We had a great time — the organization, the city, the fans — it was absolutely spectacular,” he said. “I want to thank you for making that possible.