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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Have You Lost Your Leadership Jingle?

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This morning, I heard an old Christmas song playing a store: Bobby Vinton singing “The Bell That Couldn’t Jingle.” His recording was released in 1964, but it was written by Burt Bacharach in 1957.[1]

This is a corny Christmas song with a moral, which was a popular genre in the 50’s and 60’s. It is in the musical style of the song factory writers of that era.[2]

But today, a line at the end of the first verse caught my attention: “The bell that couldn’t jingle: it had nothing there inside.” It’s an interesting thought. Most bells have a clapper or a ball to create noise. The poor bell in the song had nothing inside.

How are you jingling as a leader?[3]

Is there something there inside? You may have noticed that at times there truly is “nothing left inside.” Can you recognize when that happens?

How can you regain your lost jingle?

In the song, Santa has Jack Frost freeze the little bell’s teardrop and put it in the bell so that our hero could jingle happily on Santa’s sleigh.[4]

jingle-bells

Here are some suggestions.

  1. Reevaluate and update your goals. If your goals are dated or unrealistic, they can cause you to lose your jingle. Current, relevant goals that are meaningful to you can help bring back some of your jingle.
  2. Reevaluate your motivations in life. This ties in with looking at your goals. Why do you do what do? Is it enough to ring your bells?
  3. Seek feedback from trusted colleagues or a supervisor. Sometimes a second or even a third pair of eyes can help you find out why your bells aren’t jingling. Sometimes your spouse or significant other can chime in and help.
  4. Take time to recharge. Everyone needs a break to regain perspective. Whether you are in search of your lost shaker of salt or your jingle, you won’t find it if your nose is always to the grindstone.
  5. More cowbell. Just kidding. Or maybe not. Sometimes your bell has to be struck from the outside. There are days when we need external help to make our noise.

more_cowbell_grande

If you recognize that your jingle isn’t jingling, take the necessary steps to get your jingle back. Don’t be a ding-a-ling about it.

A good leader can jingle all the way.

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[1] Other recordings include Bobby Helms (1965), Burt Bacharach himself (1967?), and Herb Alpert (1968). Vinton’s was the B-side of Jingle Bell Rock.

[2] I have nothing against Bacharach. His songs are timeless, and he was a good composer with a distinctive sound. But his was among the music that our parents listened to in the 60’s. Need I say more?

[3] I am not referring to the times when the jingling gets annoying.

[4] See, I did say it was corny. And because I live in Southern California, that bell would lose its jingle again when Santa gets here.

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.

If I Could See Clearly Now

A good leader sets clear expectations.

One of the challenges of leadership is in motivating others to achieve goals. But this is essential in making progress in your organization. It is especially important that the two people be on the same page as they work together. Brian Tracy said “Whatever we expect with confidence becomes our own self-fulfilling prophecy.” With that in mind, why would a good leader fail to share his expectations with those who report to him?

Some things are critical to your success.

  1. Set specific, relevant goals. Vague goals do not help anyone achieve the desired end. I have written before about the time during an annual review when a supervisor told me I needed to be more proactive. When I asked for clarification so I knew what to focus on, I was told “just be more proactive.” I pursued that goal for a year, but not in the direction my supervisor had wanted. I still don’t know exactly what was wanted.
  2. Set deadlines and checkpoints. A good goal must have a target date. And frequently there are intermediate steps that should be checked. Sometimes it is just good to have a progress check. These should be discussed together so that expectations are clear. There is nothing worse than being called in to account for progress on a goal without warning, and being chastised because you are not on track. Just as runners measure their split times at given points, leaders must also take measure periodically and give meaningful feedback to their team members.
  3. Make sure that the metrics for measuring progress are clearly understood. Thomas S. Monson has said “Where performance is measured, performance improves. Where performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates.” But both sides must be using the same measuring stick. I was once called out (at an unscheduled checkpoint) for falling short on a goal. By the measurements I used, the numbers had doubled from the previous year; I thought I was making good progress. But that wasn’t how my supervisor saw it. Be clear on what you are measuring and how you will measure it.
  4. Praise progress, and don’t focus on shortcomings. Dale Carnegie taught to begin with praise and honest appreciation, then to call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly. The phrase that has stuck with me for 40 years is “Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.” He also suggested that the leader give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
  5. Never ever blindside anyone in an evaluation, not even in a crisis situation. This goes along with the clearly defined checkpoints and clear metrics. If you must call an additional intermediate meeting, give the individual some indication of what will be discussed (maybe not if you are firing the individual with cause). If he or she can prepare, the meeting will more productive for both of you.

John Akers said: “Set your expectations high; find men and women whose integrity and values you respect; get their agreement on a course of action; and give them your ultimate trust.”

Isn’t that a significant part of leadership? We must show trust as well as earn it. In setting clear expectations of others we are doing both.

Have clear expectations, and make them known!