Theismann to CPAs: You Are the Conscience of America

Joe Theismann, the former all-pro quarterback for the Washington Redskins who led that team to a pair of Super Bowl appearances and one world championship, told roughly 300 attendees representing many of the leading CPA firms in the country that one of the best qualities of leadership is the ability to listen.

“You have to ask yourself, are you a figurehead with your name on the door or are you a leader? Leadership is not what you know, but selecting the people around you to tell you what you don’t know,” he said.

Theismann, who spent a dozen years in the NFL before a devastating leg injury ended his career in 1985, delivered the opening keynote address at the 9th annual Winning Is Everything conference in Las Vegas.

“You’re the conscience of America,” Theismann told conference-goers. “You are the survivors in tough times. With accountants, I’m not looking for someone to file taxes and do my financials. I can do that myself online. In your position you can basically control people’s lives.”

The former standout at Notre Dame and former NFL Most Valuable Player sprinkled his keynote’s central themes of leadership and opportunity with football analogies and anecdotes, urging attendees to motivate their people and not be afraid to ask them to do more.

“If you outlined a specific set of rules and goals, you would be surprised at how fast many would follow them,” he said. “If you don’t ask your people to be great, then they won’t be. What are you looking for in new recruits for your firms, great students or the whole package?”

Theismann revealed that in his last year of professional football, he was one of only four players in the league with a $1 million salary. But a compound fracture suffered in a Monday night game against the New York Giants forced him to face some stark realities.

“In 1986, I took a $935,000 pay cut,” he quipped. But that experience motivated him to tone down his well-publicized ego and establish career goals.

“I learned that you can never be a true success if you think you are doing it all yourself,” he said. “I’ve never had failures. I looked at them as just educational experiences that didn’t go my way.”

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