Great Leadership
Teamwork Essentials: The forgotten part of John F. Kennedy's

On September 12th, 1962 at Rice University in Houston, Texas, President John F. Kennedy presented to the nation his space vision during his famous "Rice Speech" also known as the "Moon Speech".

Everyone knows the famous quotation: "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...". 

This speech is often used as an example of motivation and enthusiasm also in leadership training. Therefore, one day, while screening some information sources on team management, I came again across this speech. Fortunately, I decided to watch on youtube the full length 17 minutes and 48 seconds version instead of the 2 minutes and 12 seconds short version.

Imagine being a NASA employee during these times and listening to your "boss", telling the world that he wants you and your colleagues to do the, according to your opinion, impossible with sending a man to the moon. The issue of great visions is often they do not create the necessary dynamic in a team if many team members do not believe in this vision.

And this was the case with many NASA employees.

John F. Kennedy knew this and made a very clever step to address this issue. Because when I continued to listen to his speech beyond the famous quotation I noticed that the "forgotten part" of his speech is actually more relevant for motivation and the development of enthusiasm in a team than his famous quotation.

What did he say?

"...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 hot as it is here today--and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out--then we must be bold..."

And why was it so clever?

 Many managers proclaim new visions without taking into consideration where their team stands and what their opinion is. By doing so you easily end up with a disbelieve and frustration which can paralyze your entire team. But John F. Kennedy showed his team that he knows what kind of challenge they will be facing. "...heat and stresses several times more than have ever experienced...", "...new metal alloys, some of which have not been invented..." and "...untried mission, to an unknown celestial body..." just to mention a few.

By mentioning that he knows about all the challenges the program will have to face he shows to his team the trust he has in them. Because despite all these challenges he still believes in his team that they will be able to make it.

The rest is history: Besides a couple of setbacks and failures, on July 21st, 1969 (within a decade) the first man went to the moon.

Like what you read? There is more to come - stay tuned!
Andreas Damaske
Founder of Teamwork Engineers
About the author
More than 30 years of business experience, his work with countless national and international teams as well as extensive literature studies have given Andreas many valuable insights and ideas on how you can make Teamwork interesting, satisfying and successful. In this blog he shares some of his insights with you.
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