The race to space began in 1957 when the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik.
President Eisenhower initiated Project Mercury to largely demonstrate that the US could compete with the cosmonauts who were the first men to experience space.
But it was President Kennedy who had the vision to trump the Soviets and launch an ambitious initiative to not only put men and satellites in space, but to also put the first man on the moon. He asked Congress for $7 billion to $9 billion over the next five years for the program. It was not an easy task to convince Congress or even the American people. Some thought it was a waste of taxpayer dollars.
But the President did not give up. He had reservations but largely kept them to himself. In a recording released in 2011, you can hear JFK telling NASA Administrator James Webb, “Why should we spend that kind of dough to put a man on the moon? But it seems to me . . . we’ve got to wrap around in this country, a military use for what we’re doing and spending in space,’’ Kennedy says. “If we don’t, it does look like a stunt,’’ he adds.
No one heard him say that in public. Instead, he told reporters and members of Congress that there is ‘no single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space,’’
That is, perhaps, one of the most important lessons for leaders who want to communicate their vision for the future.
1. Have confidence and express confidence in your vision. If you don’t, no one will. You have to rally support around your idea.
2. Be as specific as you can. People will want as many details as you can provide rather than broad-brush ideas.
3. Use every opportunity to express your vision to your stakeholders. That includes your staff, your donors, and others in the community. Behave like successful political candidates who are pros at staying ‘on message.’
4. Be bold. Leaders are not satisfied with traveling the easiest route to success. When you see a problem or have a vision spend the time to think of a solution that will address it no matter how difficult the task of solving it might be.
Never underestimate the power of ideas. As Michelle Obama reminds us, “You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world’s problems at once but don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.”