On September 12, 1962, in Houston Texas, in front of 35,000 people, many of whom were scientists and politicians, John F. Kennedy charged a nation when he said, “We choose to go to the moon.” That speech, the “Moon Speech,” is a great illustration of executive leadership, as it embodies an important planning principle called “grounding.”
Whether starting a new venture or launching an important initiative within your organization, successful planning starts with a clear vision for the project grounded in the everyday lives of the people who will carry it out.
With millennials now the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, connecting your project to the concerns of your team is critical to your success. Communicating why you have made the plan is more important than how you get it done.
“Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.” Teddy Roosevelt
At the time of the Moon Speech, the similarities between the United States then and today’s business environment are uncanny. The country was locked in battle with its chief competitor, The Soviet Union, which was winning the Space Race with two major accomplishments; it launched first artificial satellite – Sputnik, and the first manned space flight with Yuri Gagarin. The country was behind and getting its butts kicked. Being behind its principal competitor was eroding the nation’s confidence in itself as a progressive nation, and damaging its brand as the world’s most innovative technological leader. For the first time since the Second World War, Americans doubted themselves.
Kennedy’s speech changed all that.
His personal charge to those scientists and politicians, focused through the historical lens of rapid human innovation, and illuminated by a compelling vision for America’s future, established a clear goal: to land a man on the moon “in this decade.” He knew we had the means – the best scientists in the world; the mode – the new Saturn C-1 booster rocket, and the money – NASA’s $5.4 billion budget. Now he needed the motivation – to explain was why it mattered. To a doubting nation, Kennedy said that going to the Moon “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 we intend to win.”
By positioning space as the new frontier and the quest for the moon as the “Space Race,” Kennedy connected his vision to every American life. We love races, thrive in competition and hated the Soviets….at least at the time. So, in July of 1969, when we successfully landed a man on the moon, we realized a vision articulated nearly a decade before, and launched the most fruitful era of technological innovation the world has ever known.
The best plans begin with a compelling charge, but one that is grounded in the personal goals of your team. Don’t be afraid to aim high. Aggressive goals are inspirational, provided you link them to your employee’s everyday concerns. Take your cue from JFK and you’ll get there – even if you’re asking for the moon.