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.

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

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[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.

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Isn’t a common purpose enough to build a strong team?

The Houston Rockets’ basketball season ended this week with a devastating playoff loss to the Golden State Warriors. Shortly after the game ended, a headline appeared on espn.com: “Rockets’ season ends and the truth comes out.”[1] Not that this was exactly news to those who follow professional basketball.[2]

James Harden stated: “the season from the beginning wasn’t going our way. We had too many distractions, a bumpy road this entire season.” Jason Terry added: “You will be faced with all types of adversities and how you come through those is a sign of the type of team you have. Our team was just not strong enough mentally to get through those adversities and learn.”

2-3-Zone-Defense

I would hope that every player and every team in the NBA has the goal to win a championship at the beginning of each season, even if that isn’t realistic. Each player performs at an elite level, although they are not all equal. All have their strengths and weaknesses.

So why is it that a common desire is not enough to win a championship?

Jason Terry opined: “We just didn’t have the chemistry needed. It’s one thing to put the pieces together on paper, but it has to be a tight-knit bond with a group of guys to do something special, and our group just didn’t have that this year.”

What does it take to build a championship team? And what can leaders learn from professional sports to build their teams into champions?

I believe that there are four points to consider.

 

1. Communication. A team cannot function without effective communication. Roles, responsibilities and expectations must be clearly communicated. Team members must be alert to notice changes that are conveyed when plans need to change quickly, and then respond.

An effective team must be on the same page as they work, or chaos will result.

2. Cooperation. It should go without saying that there should be a spirit of cooperation on a team. Without cooperation, there is no team. Team members require a certain degree of flexibility in order to work together. They should “check their egos at the door” and sacrifice certain personal rewards for the good of the team.

3. Cohesiveness. A team without unity is not a team. It is just a collection of individuals pretending to work together.

There ought to be a feeling of collegiality on the team. That doesn’t mean that you and your committee chair have to be best friends: but you should be friends. Respect and camaraderie are vital ingredients to a functioning team. This is what provides the “chemistry” that produces synergistic results.

4. Selflessness. It’s not all about me. It’s about accomplishing our mission together.

We should evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each team member and take advantage of individual strengths in order to minimize any team weaknesses.

One teammate might be good at everything, but he can’t do it all. A team plays to the strengths of each member. As a team, we share the load. You have to pass the ball. Sometimes you shoot; sometimes you set a screen.

And all team members should be flexible enough to step up their game when another team member is having a bad day.

team-defense-capt_las10902240643_kings_lakers_basketball_las109_001

A typical basketball team consists of five starters, with seven more on the bench, some of whom rarely see any action. But every member can make contributions within their roles. The results of their efforts can be seen in box scores and standings each day.

In your organization, there will be various teams, normally ranging in size from three to twelve people. Each team has a designated mission to perform within the organization and the results of their efforts may not be immediately evident. However, their degree of achievement will contribute to your ultimate level of success.

A motivated leader will keep these principles in mind, whether he or she leads a team of three, five, or many more.

A good leader sees beyond the common purpose or goal, and works to build strong teams to create desired results.

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Special thanks go to Jerry Lomenick, one of my coaches, for sharing his ideas on teamwork.

 

[1] This may be found at http://espn.go.com/blog/houston-rockets/post/_/id/2529/rockets-season-ends-and-the-truth-comes-out. Quotes are taken from this article.

[2] I’m not picking on the Houston Rockets. They are a great organization. As a life-long Lakers’ fan, I can’t justify talking trash after this season.

A Good Leader Leads with Love

self_esteem_lion

There are many inspirational stories circulating around the internet. Some of them are true; others we hope are true. The following is a summary of one that is true, and may touch the hearts of the most hardened leaders. Thanks to Jemma Garraghan on the Why Lead Now blog for this summary.

Oh, and the story is true. See Snopes. And the complete story can be found at: All Good Things.

Leaders, look inward for the lessons to be learned from this story. I cannot share all the insights you may gain from reading this and pondering it. But I invite you to share any good insights you may have gained. 

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One day, a teacher asked her students to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name. Then she told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down.

It took the remainder of the class period to finish their assignment, and as the students left the room, each one handed in the papers.

That Saturday, the teacher wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper, and listed what everyone else had said about that individual.

On Monday she gave each student his or her list.

Before long, the entire class was smiling. “Really?” she heard whispered. “I never knew that I meant anything to anyone!” and, “I didn’t know others liked me so much,” were most of the comments.

No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. The teacher never found out if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn’t matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another.

That group of students moved on.

Several years later, one of the students was killed in Vietnam and his teacher attended the funeral of that student.  She had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. He looked so handsome, so mature. The church was packed with his friends. One by one those who loved him took a last walk by the coffin. The teacher was the last one to bless the coffin.

As she stood there, one of the soldiers who acted as pallbearer came up to her. “Were you Mark’s math teacher?” he asked. She nodded: “Yes.” Then he said: “Mark talked about you a lot.”

After the funeral, most of Mark’s former classmates went together to lunch. Mark’s mother and father were also there, wanting to speak with his teacher. “We want to show you something,” his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. “They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.”

Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times.

The teacher knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which she had listed all the good things each of Mark’s classmates had said about him.

“Thank you so much for doing that,” Mark’s mother said. “As you can see, Mark treasured it.”

All of Mark’s former classmates started to gather around. Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, “I still have my list. It’s in the top drawer of my desk at home.”

Chuck’s wife said, “Chuck asked me to put his in our wedding album.”

“I have mine too,” Marilyn said. “It’s in my diary”

Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. “I carry this with me at all times,” Vicki said.  Without batting an eyelash, she continued, “I think we all saved our lists.”

Tears rolled down the eyes of the humble teacher.  We encounter so many people in our lives, and it’s a precious joy to see the good in all those journeys.

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self-esteem_wont_build_character

Please note that this is not a call for mindless positive thinking. You don’t need to hold hands and sing Kum Ba Ya in your meetings. That has no place in the real world. Instead, it is a reminder that we cannot lift our teams by putting the members down.

Yes, there are times when correction is needed, but it can usually be given with love. Yes, I really said that. Love is a foundational principle of Steve Farber’s Radical LEAP (that’s Love, Energy, Audacity and Proof). Moreover, it is our team members who produce our bottom lines. Do we show them that we value their contributions? Where do our priorities lie?

And now for the homework. If you gained any leadership insights from this story, take some time to determine how you will apply them. And then go to work and sincerely share the love. As in Sister Helen’s story, the changes may not be immediately apparent, but you will reap benefits.

A good leader leads with love.