Cory is CEO of Galbraith Communications.
While campaigning, John Kennedy never wanted official photographers to take his picture while he was eating. Why? People don’t look very good when they’re eating. And it was important to Kennedy that he always look his best in the public eye. It was part of creating the Kennedy legend. (Despite Kennedy’s hope, there are numerous photos of him eating, and he was right. It doesn’t look good).
Kennedy was much like many of us – full of contradictions. He could be compassionate, but at times indifferent and cruelly disengaged. His character was flawed. In private, he was prone to swearing a great deal, and his affairs are now well known.
But for all his human imperfections and frailties (both physical and mental), John Kennedy was a master of staying calm when everyone around him was in panic mode.
While the years have erased much of the shine from the Kennedy myth, this week – more than half a century after his assassination, there are critical leadership lessons to be learned, both in terms of what to do, and what not to do.
Stay totally, intensely focused
Today, distractions are aplenty. It’s easy to move off course. The strong leader is able to stay focussed no matter what’s going on around her or him.
Kennedy was cool under pressure. In fact, he was able to behave as though he wasn’t under any pressure at all.
When the then Soviet Union moved missiles into Cuba, his goal was to get them out peacefully. This, despite advice from his inner circle to bomb the missile sites, likely causing retaliation from the Soviets.
While chaos surrounded him, Kennedy never lost sight of his objective.
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Dismiss distraction and stay totally focussed.
Never decide without weighing all the options
The pace of change today can make decision-making difficult. What is true at this moment, may not be true tomorrow.
But before making a critical decision, leaders need to weigh all their options, in whatever time they’ve got.
Kennedy resisted the pressure of making a snap decision during the Cuban missile crisis, preferring to weigh all his options, asking a million questions and searching for opportunities. He was initially highly criticized for all that, but in the end, it was the right thing to do.
Have you thought about every single angle before making a critical decision? Have you asked every possible question?
“Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly. – John F. Kennedy”
Don’t be a complainer
It is said that John Kennedy seldom, if ever, complained. He had many physical ailments, many opponents – and people who hated him. At times, he was in extreme physical pain. Rather than complain, he just smiled and stayed positive.
As leaders, we must remain poised and relaxed, regardless of how we really feel. We must refrain from complaints in order to keep everyone in the right frame of mind.
Set high admirable goals and challenge people to achieve them
When Kennedy said in 1962, “We choose to go to the moon,” before the end of the decade, he had put out a challenge that people could get excited about. This was a goal not about money, but about testing the energies and skills of people.
In the case of your own business, can you make a challenge, not to reach a profit milestone, but to accomplish something that will really benefit your clients and make a difference in their lives?
Can you send out a challenge that will make your people proud, giving them the meaning they seek? This will ultimately benefit the bottom line.
Don’t take foolish risks
Here, we learn not to do what Kennedy did.
We know now that Kennedy had two parallel lives – one of an admired and respected statesman in public, and a reckless womanizer in private.
Kennedy’s risk-taking private life came dangerously close to destroying his presidency. Among his many affairs was one with Judith Exner, who, while seeing Kennedy, was also romantically involved with Mafia boss Sam Giancana .
Exner was known to phone Kennedy from the mob boss’s house – a scenario of total insanity.
As leaders, we need to ensure that the values we publicly adhere to and preach are the same at work and at home, if we are to maintain credibility.