Lessons for leaders: JFK's "Man on the Moon"

Last week (September 12) was the 56th anniversary of John. F. Kennedy’s “Man on the Moon” address at Rice Field in Houston, Texas. As far as moments that changed the course of American history go, the “Moon” speech ranks right up there with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and MLK’s “I have a Dream” speech. Let's examine 3 aspects of its genius

It pointed to a shared identity

Kennedy was determined to give Americans something to live for, something that would re-establish the nation’s prestige in the eyes of the global community:

“No nation which expects to be the leader of other nations can expect to stay behind in the race for space”

Though it would be a hazardous and costly venture, it would find equal in American skill, expertise and ingenuity

‘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”

It was believable

Kennedy went on to describe the progress that NASA and his administration had made so far. He alluded to new facilities, rocket prototypes and the satellites that were already in orbit. Putting a man on the moon was not just possible but probable too.

It rallied the whole nation

But the speech’s genius lay in the way Kennedy positioned the mission as a national undertaking.

“In a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon...it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.”

A few years later while on a tour of NASA, Kennedy met a man with a mop. “What do you do?” asked Kennedy. Instead of saying, “I clean floors and empty the trash (duh!)”, the man replied: “I’m putting the first man on the moon Mr President”. That was the genius of the speech writes Nancy Duarte in her book Resonate: “As far as the janitor was concerned, the man was making history”

Great communication engages heart and the head. “Man on the Moon” did both in abundant measure.

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