Presidential BHAG’s

Footprint on moonAs I reflect on those who have served as President of the United States in my lifetime, there have been the good, the great, the mediocre, and the others. The perspective of history will sort that out.

An unspoken expectation is for each President to lead the nation. While each led in some manner, some exhibited strong leadership skills; others were weaker.

We have had the opportunity to visit the Presidential Libraries of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and while at each one, my thoughts were drawn to President John F. Kennedy. He did something that none of his successors have done, and honestly may not do again. What did he do? He challenged the people of the U.S. to meet a difficult goal. This challenge unified the nation, and we ultimately succeeded.

This challenge was extended to a joint session of Congress on May 25, 1961. Said Kennedy: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”[i]Mecury-Atlas 4

A good leader gives challenges that help his people grow. There are elements to his challenge that leaders can draw from.

  1. Kennedy did his homework. He had some background knowledge. He gave specifics in his challenge. He had an estimate of the costs involved, and was aware of the technology that existed as well as what was needed.
  2. Kennedy knew he could not accomplish this on his own. In fact he lacked the skills required to execute the actions he was proposing. He empowered those who had the necessary skills and challenged: “every scientist, every engineer, every serviceman, every technician, contractor, and civil servant” to give “his personal pledge that this nation will move forward, with the full speed of freedom, in the exciting adventure of space.”[ii] He urged Congress to provide them with the resources to do what he asked.Apollo 11 engineers
  3. He provided a unifying rationale. “Now it is time to take longer strides–time for a great new American enterprise–time for this nation to take a clearly leading role in space achievement, which in many ways may hold the key to our future on earth.”[iii] Remember that this was in response to the Soviet Union developing manned space capabilities, in connection with the Cold War.
  4. He set a deadline for the project. The time frame was demanding, and the goal was not a simple one. But this created a sense of urgency, and work began immediately, and continued in spite of disappointments and disasters. He said that the “risk enhances our stature.”[iv]
  5. He created a spirit of competition. And then he said it wasn’t exactly a competition: “This is not merely a race. Space is open to us now; and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others.”[v] This served to motivate everyone involved. And all Americans were involved, in one way or another.Gemini 7 rendezvous with Gemini 6
  6. Kennedy appealed to our patriotism, our “team spirit.” In a speech at Rice University in 1962 which served as an update on progress (another important element) and an announcement of what would become “Mission Control” in Houston, he said: “The exploration of space will go ahead, whether we join in it or not, and it is one of the great adventures of all time, and no nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space.”[vi]
  7. He asked for a firm commitment. This is absolutely critical in achieving a goal, especially an overwhelming goal like Kennedy’s. “Let it be clear that I am asking the Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action, a course which will last for many years and carry very heavy costs.”[vii] There was absolute transparency in his request, long before we started demanding transparency of our leaders.Apollo 14 launch
  8. Finally, he issued a call to action, and a request for all to make the necessary sacrifices to achieve this goal. He knew this was a hard thing to do, and asked us to do it because we do hard things.

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”[viii] He continued, “Space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.”[ix]

Armstrong descends ladder

What was amazing to me as a child now seems somewhat commonplace to most people. There were 135 Space Shuttle missions, and numerous trips to the International Space Station that no longer capture the imagination of the public. But this would not have become so ordinary if President Kennedy had not set his BHAG[x] in motion.

A good leader gives challenges that inspire his people to stretch and grow; a great leader gives challenges that unify and motivate.

——————————————————

Special thanks to NASA for the images from the gallery at https://images.nasa.gov.

————————————————————————–

[i] Speech before a Joint Session of Congress, 25 May 1961. https://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Research-Aids/JFK-Speeches/United-States-Congress-Special-Message_19610525.aspx

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid. Many of the technologies we take for granted were developed for the space program and later found use in civilian life. Examples include personal computers, microwave ovens, freeze-dried ice cream, and even the satellite systems we rely on for weather and for locating ourselves.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Speech at Rice University, 12 September 1962. https://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Research-Aids/JFK-Speeches/Rice-University_19620912.aspx

[vii] Speech before a Joint Session of Congress, op cit. Remember that he proposing an expenditure of $7-9 billion per year on this project, a fittingly astronomical amount for 1961. At Rice, he proposed an expenditure of $.50 per week for every man, woman and child in the U.S. to continue this endeavor.

[viii] Speech at Rice University, op cit.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Big Hairy Audacious Goal. This idea came from the book, “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” by James Collins and Jerry Porras. Their acronym refers to a long-term, usually large-scale goal that changes the very nature of an organization.

Advertisements

Equip your crew with the right tools

The question What's in Your Toolbox? asking if you have the skil

As a young Boy Scout, I had the opportunity to lead a group of my peers as a Patrol Leader in the Flaming Arrow Patrol. We developed into a strong patrol, and became good friends. But when I was elected Senior Patrol Leader, it became apparent that I hadn’t ensured for proper leadership succession. In fact, at age 14, I wasn’t even aware of the principle.

On the first campout with the new Patrol Leader, everything was going well until they realized they had forgotten a spatula to turn their pancakes. Since they had already mixed the pancake batter, and were hungry, they came up with a novel idea: scrambled pancakes. The pancakes were stirred with a fork, just like scrambled eggs. The result did not look appetizing, but the guys were hungry, and ate it anyway.  Ask any member of Troop 592 from that era about scrambled pancakes, and you’ll have a good laugh.

And the Flaming Arrows never forgot to have the proper cooking utensils again.

 

The important lesson from the experience is that in order to perform a task effectively, the right tools are necessary. If an individual doesn’t have the right tools, their assignment is destined for failure.

RightTool

Although different tasks require different tools, there are some common tools that must me be available in order to succeed.

  1. Empowerment When given an assignment, whether it be installing a new faucet or leading a team, an individual must be given the authority to perform the task and to make the necessary decisions that will be faced along the way. Without this empowering, the task cannot be completed.
  2. Expectations If you cannot clarify expectations, don’t make the assignment. If I am installing a faucet, the basic expectations are: properly mounted, tight connections, hot water on the left and cold on the right. But what if the client has additional expectations that weren’t conveyed to me?
    In leading a team, some basic expectations will be obvious as well. But what is the ultimate goal? Do I follow a marked path or must I discover my own? If these and other questions are not clarified, the leader may not meet the unspoken expectations.
  3. Education A certain degree of training and orientation is necessary for any job. In any field, it may be assumed that the individual has a basic knowledge of the task at hand. But unlike the journeyman plumber who has installed thousands of faucets, and has access to a basin wrench and other devices to facilitate the job, the new leader may not even have a toolbox, much less the necessary tools to complete the job.
    Education ties in closely with empowerment and expectations. When a new leader is asked to lead a team, the supervising leader should determine the extent of the new leader’s knowledge and make certain to fill in the gaps.
  4. Evaluation How do we measure success? What tools do we use for this? How frequently will the measurements be taken, and how frequently will constructive feedback be given? Just as educators use rubrics to help define success for their students, the elements of success should be well-defined for the new leader.
    When a faucet is installed, the apprentice plumber will require more evaluations than the experienced journeyman will. The expectations at each step should be understood.
    When leading a team, sometimes the specifics are harder to define. But the new leader cannot succeed without understanding what will be evaluated.

222130-a-construction-inspector-pointing-with-concern-to-his-report-on-this-clipboard-isolated-Stock-Photo

If a new leader is not equipped with the right tools, he may be doomed to failure. Whether it be a pancake turner, a basin wrench, or a thorough understanding of the assignment, the right tools are critical for completing the job.

030711feature_f2_1

Are you giving your crew the right tools? A good leader will ensure that a well-stocked toolbox is available.