It’s that time of the year again – When leaders huddle and begin their workplans for the next fiscal year and beyond.
So, in a bid to inspire any people leader reading this, allow me to share with you a short story about JFK and the unexpected effects of a powerful shared vision…
John F. Kennedy – the 35th President of the United States of America.
To the masses, this iconic former leader of the world’s most powerful nation is generally famous for three things during his term as the world’s most powerful man:
1) His inspiring inaugural Presidential address that asks not what a country can do for the common man but what he can do for the country.
2) His skillful diplomatic manoeuvres during the Cuban Missile Crisis that prevented World War Three.
3) And unfortunately, his gruesome assassination that brought a nation to tears
However, one must also never forget his grand vision of uniting America amidst growing fears of the Communist threat back then, and with which that speech was scripted for. This vision, of course, compelled President Kennedy to seek to end and come out tops in the space race against the former Soviet Union, as he approved millions of dollars to be channeled to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, more commonly known as NASA, to ensure that America would eventually send the first man to the moon within the decade.
Then finally, on July 24, 1969, this national goal that helped galvanised America, was realised, as astronaut Neil Armstrong, took his small steps on that barren rock that would represent a giant leap for mankind. This was indeed a momentous occasion for all humanity.
But legend has it that after President Kennedy gave the green light to NASA to begin preparations for the moon landing, deliberate efforts by the government were also made to ensure that this national project had the complete backing of the American people. Posters were created, more speeches were given and regular updates on the mission’s preparation progress were broadcasted.
Later, as the story went, the President flew to the Kennedy Space Center for a meeting with NASA officials. It was apparently an extremely dull session of presentations upon presentations and it got so bad that Kennedy halted the meeting and called for a break. Thereafter, he decided to catch a breather himself and took a casual walk alone in a nearby garden.
As he strolled along the path, whilst admiring the blossoming flowers beside him, he couldn’t help but notice an elderly janitor sweeping up some debris on the ground with a remarkable concentration on the task at hand. Kennedy was surprised at the intensity and focus that this janitor displayed to such a seemingly trivial chore, and which of course, caused the janitor to be almost completely oblivious to the President’s presence.
Sensing a cheeky moment and with a smile on this face, Kennedy walked towards this hardworking janitor and commented, “Sir, good morning. I’m curious but what are you doing?”
Stunned and dumbfounded for a while, the elderly gentleman looked squarely at Kennedy, quickly collected his thoughts and replied, “Well…Mr. President…I’m merely helping to put the first man on the moon.”
You can only imagine President Kennedy’s reaction to such an impressive response to such an innocuous question.
Hence, before we start setting goals for the future, let us also ensure that the communication of that common vision carves a path out towards inspiration and execution.
Sometimes, the “how” matters more than the “what and why”.