“We Choose To Go To The Moon!” – Leadership Lessons From JFK

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“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 we intend to win ..”

Don’t you feel energetic after reading the above words? Just imagine being one of the 35,000 people who was there at Rice University, Houston, TX on Sept. 12, 1962 when President John F. Kennedy delivered this speech. – now known as “We choose to go to the Moon” speech).  It certainly would be exciting, and energizing. If you consider the 60’s time it could be also little skeptical. Skeptical because going to the moon was nothing like any other mission in the history of the United States.  Consider that the touch screen smart phone got accessible for all of us just in 2007-08, the PC revolution really got started in late 80’s and 90’s, so to talk about going to the moon in 1962 was almost like a daydream.

And that is where the leader enters. JFK had a vision, and he gave hope and energy to people to look forward to. He also believed in science and technology and generated huge interest in those fields which eventually (directly or indirectly) led to various revolutionary inventions such as PC and smart phones.

We choose to go to the Moon! .. because that challenge that we are willing to accept, and one we intend to win ..”

Just consider how huge a task it was. JFK continued his speech:

“… 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.”

Yes, nothing less than bold. Could you imagine the intensity, the difficulties he described to send men to the moon and getting them back – safe? This is what leadership is all about.

What JFK demonstrated was setting an amazing example and lesson that we all can still follow. JFK demonstrated exceptional leadership qualities that we all can learn from:

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  1. Vision:
JFK showed a way what science can achieve. Everything impossible starts with a vision. Whether it is inventing a car, a telephone, or an iPhone – there was a vision to begin with. The leader’s vision is other people’s eyes a day-dream. What others think impossible is what leaders want to achieve. What others think cannot be done is what leaders dare to do. It is a vision that inspires others, challenges others, and leaders make it come true. Leaders believe what team can do. Leaders can make people energized, and excited to follow him or her. When JFK talked about going to the moon, it was a vision what mankind can do. He believed, he inspired, and made it happen.
  1. Courage:
It is amazing that we were entering such an unknown territory for this mission. We were going to the place in space where no one had been. We did not have the material yet found that can withstand such an intense heat. The weight and length of the rocket, the distance to the moon, the temperature, the space, and the list goes on, and all of these without drones or robots! To send real men inside the rocket and then to bring back to Earth was nothing simple! In fact, JFK did mention how ambitious that dream was. He mentioned in his speech:
“Well, space is there, and we’re going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. And, therefore, as we set sail we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure on which man has ever embarked.”
From every angle it looked like this a risky endeavor. There is not a chance to make even a small mistake. The most dangerous and great adventure it was! But JFK took up that challenge. He showed the courage to take on a mission that was impossible.
  1. Execute:
JFK did not just talk about it, he made that vision come true. He provided all the support and necessary resources, and most importantly inspiration to make that dream come true. Anyone can talk, anyone can dream, but to achieve the dream, almost an impossible dream requires skill to execute. This is one quality that separates daydreamers from true leaders.[/message][su_spacer]

Are we challenging our kids, our team, our company to a vision challenging enough and courageous enough that they look forward to?

Are we providing necessary moral support resources to achieve that vision?

There would be unknowns, we will have to find unknown material in the form of resources, we may have to withstand tremendous heat in the form of difficulties, but in the end we need to execute it – to be a true LEADER!


R.D. Jani
R.D. Jani
R. D. Jani, MS, MBA, is an avid student and practitioner of leadership and management. RJ gained his over 20 years of experience by working and consulting at various Fortune 500 companies, including General Electric (GE), McGraw-Hill, Godiva, NBC, Citibank, Bank of America, TIME, and many others. He also runs his blog at and has authored a book - "Leadership Lessons from Business Legends." He can be reached at: [email protected]

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