JFK on Project Leadership
Learning from other leaders in 2011
As I write this, much is being made of the anniversary of John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s inaugural address. It’s hard to believe that he gave it 50 years ago. I was a student then, but did not study the speech, nor did I take it heart. Which leads me to ask the question: Why should we study the speech and take it to heart today?
JFK’s speech back then, along with some others, was not ancient history. Instead, it was one for the Ages. JFK, a Democrat, still is admired by many today, even by conservatives. Heck, he was pro-business, in favor of lower taxes and strong on defense.
On Inaugural Day, 1961, Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, gave us this as he closed his speech:
“And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.”Then, in the summer of1962, at Rice University in Texas, JFK challenged the nation:
“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.
But if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun – almost as hotasitisheretoday–anddoall this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out – then we must be bold.”How’s that for a challenge? For the record, we did get there, in seven years!
In the midst of this Great Recession, which threatens our country and our states, our communities and even our businesses and families, we need to remember our heritage as Americans. What we are going through today is tough, but do our challenges seem as totally impossible as that which President Kennedy laid out for the country that hot summer day?
What We Can LearnEvery time we begin a project, most of us are going to establish “project control” right in our office, and remotely build something through our crews. That project might be a 300-foot-high building or a 300-foot-long wall, and the specs might call out for new, untried materials, things you’ve never before used or that have just been invented, to tolerances that defy logic (but insisted upon by the inspector), sometimes with incredible heat buildup, requiring extraordinary effort and skill to control cracking, yet allow strength to increase through curing.
And, like that rocket, once we “light the fuse” and propel that project, we are constantly in communication, guiding it to a precise destination at a pre-determined time, doing everything humanly possible to bring it in exactly where it is supposed to land.
On Dec. 23, 1776, Thomas Paine, a patriot at the founding of our country, wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls,” because America was being invaded by the most powerful country in the world – pretty serious stuff.
Your industry, business or family might be experiencing some “soul trying” of its own. This country was never one to climb into a bunker and pull the sheets over its head and hope that things would pass. Historically, we’ve always taken an offensive stance when warranted. The moon wasn’t coming to us, so we went to it. Our Revolutionary Army (and Navy) didn’t sit back and wait to be attacked. Their souls were, indeed, tried. Washington’s soldiers were freezing, little to eat, and not much in the way of clothing and shoes, but they still took the fight to the enemy – and they won.
I’m a fan of expanding into areas that, at least for now, seem to have some money. For me, I like public works jobs. There is money there (can you say “stimulus?”). For some of us, we should consider high-end, extreme custom work. And for others, we will have to look out-of-town. As the even-older saying goes, “Seek and ye shall find.”
We are of pioneer stock: hunters and gatherers. Others have always depended upon us. Now is no different.
Remember what Coach Gary always reminds you: “Get coaching. Get a plan and a goal. Get started. Get precise. Get in motion, now.”
About the Author
Gary Micheloni is a working project manager, speaker, author, consultant and coach. He has severals years of industry experience, including a background as a licensed general engineering contractor. For further information and insight on the Full Contact Project Management approach, write Coach Gary at FullContactTeam@gmail.com.