Five Leadership Lessons From Joe Montana

Joe Montana speaks with Claire Bennett, EVP of American Express Travel.
Joe Montana speaks with Claire Bennett, EVP of American Express Travel.

Recently Travel Agent got a chance to attend the American Express Travel Forum. During the opening General Session legendary quarterback Joe Montana took the stage to share how his experience leading a team to four Super Bowl championships can translate to running a travel business. Here are five key takeaways:

1. Develop a Work Ethic: “I played for Bill Walsh, who I think brought a different standard to us as players,” Montana says. “He wanted you to strive to be perfect every day you showed up to work, not just Sunday.”

Striving for perfection, says Montana, helps develop a work ethic. “Work ethics are contagious, both good and bad,” says Montana. “We all thought we had great work ethics – until Jerry Rice came along. Most wide receivers are taught in practice to make a catch, make a move and go 10 or 15 yards up the field. The first time he makes a catch, he sprints 60 yards into the endzone.” 

That way of practicing became contagious to the other wide receivers, Montana said, and helped the team go on to win several key games. 

2. Promote Trust: “When you come to work and you show you’re prepared, everyone around you sees it and it lifts them up,” says Montana. 

Trust becomes key when things go wrong, as they often do. “As soon as the ball’s snapped, someone’s going to make a mistake,” says Montana. “But we have to trust that if someone misses a block I’m going to get rid of the ball, or if I throw the ball too early Jerry Rice is going to go for it.”

3. Do, Don’t Say: Montana describes himself as more of a quiet, “doer” type leader.

“I wouldn’t ask somebody to do something if I wasn’t giving the same amount of effort,” says Montana. “If we get in the huddle and someone’s having a problem blocking people or dropping passes, I’m going to try to find a way to fix it. Because if I start yelling at somebody I’m going to lose them out there.”

Montana still applies that policy in his post-NFL business ventures. He currently runs a Silicon Valley venture capital fund, and he is heavily involved in all aspects of the business. 

“Our team has four guys, and I think they expected me to just sit back and let them do all the stuff,” says Montana. “But I want to be in the meetings, meet the companies. I said, ‘If you’re going I want to go.’”

4. Learn to Lose: Sports teaches its lessons quickly, says Montana. 

“You have to learn how to lose. It’s not very fun, but the faster you can accept it and move on the better you’re going to be,” says Montana. 

In one Super Bowl, Montana threw a pass that wound up hitting a defensive back right in the chest – a near-interception. “If I’d been thinking about it on the next play, if you watch the ball on the video it goes through holes this big,” Montana says, miming a small gap. “You have to believe that it’s going to go through. And we won the Super Bowl on the next play.”

5. Be Yourself: Finally, being yourself can be the best way to keep a team calm and focused. 

“The minute you change your personality as leader they know it,” says Montana. “Then they’re trying to figure out what’s wrong instead of doing what they have to do.”

Keep visiting for the latest trends from the American Express Travel Forum.