Chad Hennings flew 45 successful combat missions in A-10 jets with the Air Force, then won three Super Bowls as a defensive lineman with the Dallas Cowboys. After a nine-year NFL career, he has become a business leader, as president of Hennings Management Corporation, and an author specializing in messages of character and leadership. Hennings' third book, Forces of Character, written with Jon Finkel, was just released. It features "conversations with extraordinary individuals who have lived a life of high moral and functional character" such as an astronaut and a Holocaust survivor. Troy Aikman, Gregg Popovich and Jason Garrett are among the sports personalities included. Here is an excerpt of the chapter with Roger Staubach, who quarterbacked the Cowboys to four Super Bowl appearances and two championships.
Roger Staubach the athlete is certainly someone to admire. He's a member of both the College and Pro Football halls of fame. He won the Heisman Trophy at the Naval Academy, and he won two Super Bowls and a Super Bowl MVP with the Dallas Cowboys.
Roger Staubach the man is even more impressive. He served his country in the Navy, he built a commercial real estate business from the ground up and became a bona fide mogul. He's been married to the same woman for 50 years, and he has lived a life full of character and integrity.
But I view him as Roger Staubach the mentor. When it comes to my life, it seems whatever path I have been on Roger has been there, just twenty years further down the road than me. From being a decorated college athlete, to serving our country, to playing with the Cowboys, to running a real estate company, we have walked the same walk and we can have conversations on some very specific subjects that few others can relate to. For instance, in the modern era of the NFL, few men served in a combat zone and then went on to play professional football. That fact alone has given us a very special bond that we often talk about.
When I finally sat down to interview Roger for this book I found out that we had something else in common. After sharing my story about stealing from my friend's sister, Roger told his own story about stealing something at a very young age and how it also became a transformational moment for him in his life.
This is the perfect moment to jump into our interview:
ROGER STAUBACH (laughing): I didn't steal any football cards like you, but when I was in second grade I did something similar. I went to a Catholic school, and every day on my walk home I passed a store called Gospels that sold religious goods. One day on the way home, I wandered in there and grabbed a little statue of the Blessed Virgin and took it home. I stole it, really. That night I didn't think about it too much, but the next morning I woke up, went downstairs and started crying. I can still picture it to this day -- I was just sitting there on the couch crying. My mom saw me and asked what was wrong and I told her I took the statue. I remember vividly going up to my room and taking it out of the drawer that I had hidden it in to show her. I looked up at her and she said, "You need to take it back to the store right now and tell them what you did."
Chad Hennings: That must have been a long walk back.
STAUBACH: It sure was. They didn't have any surveillance or video cameras in the stores back then so I could have gotten away with it at that point, but I walked in there and told someone who worked there that I had taken the statue and I handed it back. It was a big step for me because I knew that I was taught better than that. I've always tried to make it up to the Blessed Virgin, and that's one of the reasons I named Drew Pearson's great catch against the Vikings in the 1975 playoff game the Hail Mary pass.
Hennings: And that's one of the things I want to touch upon in this book. The idea that character is really the sum of a series of choices a person makes throughout their life. So when you say you were taught better than that, who were the people in your life you looked to at an early age to help you make the right choices and to begin to form your own character?
STAUBACH: I was fortunate that I was an only child. I had two parents who I really cared about and they cared about me, so I got off to a good start. But when I was in third grade in Catholic school there was this sister, Sister Aloysius, and she was a tough son of a gun. She believed in corporal punishment, stuff like holding books out in front of you until you started to sweat. She also knew my pain points. She made me understand the importance of studying because she wouldn't let me go on the playground until all of my work was done. She forced me into making sure that I balanced my academic life and my sports life. To this day I think about balance and I preach that to people at my company as well.
Hennings: I agree that balance is hugely important, but having balance goes beyond time management, right? You need to balance your choices based on a variety of factors.
STAUBACH: That's true. I've always tried to balance my life with what is good for me but also keeping in mind how it affects somebody else. As an athlete, that's what you learn in sports -- the teamwork aspect of things -- that you can't do it by yourself. I still work on it. I write things down that I don't do or that I think I can do better.
Hennings: I do the same thing. Writing things down allows you to hold yourself accountable. That's an excellent habit to get into. As someone who works so hard on maintaining that balance, how do you define it? Meaning, if you're living a balanced life and everything is clicking, what does that feel like?
STAUBACH: Some days it's a "what's in it for you day," but that's not who you want to be all the time. When you take the time to consciously put yourself in other people's shoes, however, you're going to balance your life because you're going to be taking out of life but you're going to be giving an equal amount back.
Hennings: That brings up an interesting question I often think about. How do you balance your sense of empathy for someone else with your responsibility or ability to help them, especially when it comes to companies or teams? And can you instill in them a sense of moral integrity or character?
STAUBACH: When it comes to running my company, I certainly don't go around preaching, but people who work for me adhere to two agendas: their business agenda and their personal agenda. On the business side, we want everyone to make sure their priorities are on the customers. On the personal side, I try to send a message by how I act that our business is important, but your family is more important. And they see how I live my life to back that up. This is where consistency is key. You can't say you're a person of character in one place and then not act with character in another facet of your life. People see through that. The worst thing is to preach something that you're not.
Hennings: Is there someone in particular whom you either worked with or played with that you would point to as an example of having that balance, who lived a life of high character both personally and professionally?
STAUBACH: I was fortunate to have had Coach Tom Landry as someone to look up to. When you talk about character, he was a phenomenal example of being able to be a great coach and also live a life that everyone respected. Coach Landry was a tough, hard-nosed football coach, but his strength was in his preparation. He believed that in order to succeed you had to be extremely prepared and you had to work extremely hard. That's why we won for twenty years in a row.
Hennings: I was drafted by Coach Landry but never had the opportunity to play for him, unfortunately. You just mentioned how respected he was as a coach and in the community, and I think in many ways you have taken that mantle from him in Dallas, which, along with being a positive influence in my life, is one of the reasons I wanted to interview you for Forces of Character. And this leads to my next question: So much about living a life of character is understanding that all of your actions affect other people -- some positively, some negatively. Do you remember the first time you understood your ability to influence other people?
STAUBACH: Well, I recall the first time I was told I could influence other people. What many don't know about me is that I didn't play quarterback until my senior year of high school. After my junior year, my coaches approached me and asked me if I'd be interested in switching to quarterback. When I asked them why they wanted me to do that, they said, "Because the other guys listen to you." That conversation changed my life. Those coaches, Coach Krueger and Coach McCarthy, really saw me as a quarterback, and we probably wouldn't be here talking if they hadn't.
Hennings: It's amazing how the trajectory of our lives can boil down to those small moments we don't see coming. After that conversation, were you nervous? Taking over the quarterback position of a team, on any level, is a challenge -- especially starting as a senior. Did you have any doubts about your ability to lead or perform?
STAUBACH: We had a senior quarterback named Tom Schneeman who was a freshman with me and was geared to be the senior quarterback. I worked my butt off throughout our two-a-days and I barely beat him out for the job. At the end of camp, I was told I was going to start the opening game of my senior year against Dade Chaminade. And what happened in that game is a great example of how you need other people. We were behind in the fourth quarter and I threw an off-balance pass to a player named Freddy DeFinney to win the game. I promise you, if Freddy doesn't catch that touchdown pass you'd be talking to Tom Schneeman right now because coach would have given Schneeman the start in the next game.
STAUBACH: I really liked being a quarterback after that. Following my senior year I went to junior college at New Mexico Military Institute before I went to Navy, so by then I had two years of quarterback under my belt.
Hennings: Let's talk about your time in the Navy for a bit because this is important. You and I share a similar experience of being drafted by the NFL but also having a commitment to the military to honor. You were a Heisman Trophy winner, an All-American and you had the opportunity to quarterback the Dallas Cowboys sitting right in front of you. Did you ever think about trying to get out of your commitment to the Navy? Or try to circumvent the system somehow?
STAUBACH: This is where I can sound corny because there was no way in the world I would have ever broken my commitment to the Navy. That goes back to my mother who taught me to always live up to my commitments. They could have offered me a billion dollars and I would not have gone. I was committed to the Navy. And speaking of my mother, here's a great story. After I was drafted, Gil Brandt, who was the vice president of player personnel for the Cowboys at the time, went to my mom's house to talk to her. He made an insinuation to her that someone knew someone in Washington who might be able to get me out of my active-duty requirement -- and she threw him out of the house! I'm telling that story to illustrate the kind of person my mother was. Because I was raised like that, it wasn't a thought. If I would have left the service and joined the Cowboys, I would have been trying to get out of things the rest of my life.
Hennings: That's incredible. Character is usually broken down into two main parts: moral character and function character. Moral character includes self-discipline, integrity, humility and so on. That decision you made to honor your commitment is a shining example of moral character. At what point did you realize that you could still one day play in the NFL? Did you have someone in the Navy you could talk to about your long-term goals?
STAUBACH: I had a great friend named Father Joe Ryan. Father Joe was at the Naval Academy and we were also in Vietnam together. He was wounded in Vietnam, and he kind of took me under his wing so we talked about my playing football again someday fairly often. After my third year in the service, I took two weeks leave and went to the Cowboys' training camp. That's when they knew I could play because they saw that I could throw. Before I left camp Coach Landry gave me the playbook and said, "Study this. You'll be a rookie next year." I put in my resignation when I got back and completed the last year of my service. Then I joined the Cowboys.
-- Excerpted by permission from Forces Of Character: Conversations About Building A Life Of Impact by Chad Hennings with Jon Finkel. Copyright (c) 2015. Published by C-Force Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Available for purchase on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Follow Chad Hennings on Twitter @chadhennings. Follow Jon Finkel on Twitter @jon_finkel.