What is so special about leaders? Do we ever really stop to ask ourselves this question? There are a million different responses, but consider this one … they bring out the best in us. Leaders recognize what is possible before we do. They recognize the potential in an individual and perhaps more importantly, they know how to bring it to the surface. Consider, Joe Montana. We all know how his story ends, but do you know how it started? As a freshman at Notre Dame in 1974, Montana was the seventh string quarterback. The following year Dan Devine, the newly hired coach stated to his wife after being impressed by Montana’s performance during training: "I'm gonna start Joe Montana in the final spring game." When she replied, "Who's Joe Montana?" Devine said: "He's the guy who's going to feed our family for the next few years." Today we all recognize what Dan Devine recognized in that spring training game in 1975. It is a difficult task to find six better quarterbacks in the history of football than Joe Montana, much less on one college football team. It took a leader with vision to see that.
Montana did go on to have a very good college career at a highly regarded college program, yet when he entered the NFL draft in 1979 he was once again overlooked. He was selected in the third round by the San Francisco Forty-Niners because Bill Walsh, like Dan Devine before him, recognized the potential that everyone else missed.
Walsh knew that in Montana he had found the perfect understudy to lead his team and execute his plans. As Montana related years later in the foreword to the book, The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership, “He (Walsh) had in his mind this ideal – an image of perfect football – couple with the nuts-and-bolts details of how to accomplish it, which he then taught … the place you dreamed of but didn’t know you could reach? Bill Walsh taught me how to reach it. He taught all of us how to reach it.”
I do not have any doubts that Montana believed he could make it in the NFL, but having a leader like Walsh who believed he could be one of the best ever played a vital role in Montana achieving that status. When others see potential in our abilities and they believe in us, and they reinforce that belief every day through their interactions with us, we are strongly influenced by that support. Our Chairman, Bob Moles played that role for me. If the potential exists within us, it will come out when a leader takes the time to bring us along.