Put a man on the moon? Nah...

September 17, 2019

Our guest blogger today is Jim Cardoso. Jim is currently the Director of Air Force Strategy and Business Development for CAE USA Inc., a Defense and Security company located in Tampa, Florida. He has over 30 years of extensive leadership experience in operations, training, leadership education, change management, human capital resourcing, and talent management from a C-suite position. He is a retired Air Force Colonel and graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, and has over 3,600 flying hours in various aircraft.

 

On July 20th, 2019, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing. News stories and opinion pieces have appeared almost constantly over the summer regarding this stunning achievement. When President Kennedy made his pronouncement in 1961 that America would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, neither the hardware nor the engineering expertise even existed. The technological realization of that enormous vision almost undercuts the criticality of setting and maintaining the vision itself. You’d think this would be easy to do so, given the overwhelming support for NASA’s space program and the objective of reaching the moon. Well…..

 

It’s assumed today that the country was in lock-step behind the goal of reaching the moon by the end of the ’60s. But that overlooks the tumultuous nature of that period in American history. Remember, the same summer that Neil Armstrong took those first steps, the Vietnam War—and its accompanying protests—was in full swing, and the counter-cultural phenomenon known as Woodstock was less than a month away. In early 1969, a Harris poll revealed that only 39% of Americans favored landing a man on the moon; only 45% thought that the space program was worth the $4 billion a year it was costing. The grainy documentaries we see today of people gathered around their TV’s on that day in 1969, enraptured by the ongoing saga of the Apollo 11 mission, belies the reality that up to that day, more than half of America did not think the space race was worth the cost—or just didn’t care.

 

This is where visionary leadership became paramount, and these lessons resonate today. As a leader, there will come a time where your vision does not align with the opinion of the majority or “conventional wisdom”. The fact that your vision doesn’t involve a multi-billion dollar national initiative doesn’t undercut its importance to your professional goals, or those of your organization. If your vision is truly—well, visionary—it’s going to rub some people the wrong way or be outside their immediate area of concern. This is not to say you shouldn’t take the experienced, well-reasoned insights of your team into consideration to inform your vision and put the “meat on the bones” of the concept to achieve it. But as the leader, you are ultimately responsible for the success or failure of your organization, so don’t shy away from setting and communicating a vision with audacity and confidence, even if it goes against the grain of majority opinion.

 

Would America have reached the Moon without this outstanding example of vision-casting? Undoubtedly. Would we have by the summer of ’69? That’s harder to say. But it’s hard to argue that Kennedy’s clear statement of vision, and its subsequent clarification and support in the years that followed, helped push a fledgling concept into reality. Your vision for your team or organization will have a similar impact on its success. Set the vision, communicate it, and stick to it!

 

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