Dare to lead audaciously
A new lens on leadership
5 min read:
- Leadership is not about what is safe, easy or predictable. Leadership that inspires and mobilises is bold, courageous, and audacious.
- Audacious leadership is not the art of the possible, but rather the artistry of the unimaginable. US President John F. Kennedy’s audacious 1961 “moon shot” vision not only changed the trajectory of human space flight, it reimagined what it means to see a world others cannot – and being able to unite others behind this vision.
- Audacity is not the reserve of the privileged few. We are all born to be audacious. It is in our genes. It is the essence of life. Of learning. Of leading.
We are not born to be timid.
Our greatest moments are incubated in our moments of greatest audacity. When we dare to imagine the impossible. When we see ourselves and those around us as not only as we are and always have been, but as we could be.
As we are meant to be.
On the other side of caution. The other side of comfort. And the other side of the status quo.
One small step
John F. Kennedy was never supposed to be a great president.
The weight of history was stacked against him. Although born into one of the wealthiest and most powerful political families in the United States, Kennedy’s platform when he was elected in 1960 was tenuous, at best.
- He won the general election by only 112,000 votes, out of 68.8 million cast – a margin of less than 0.18%.
- At only 43, he was the youngest person ever voted into the presidency.
- He was the first Catholic president at a time when anti-Catholic prejudice was still very much a mainstream of American life.
- He was the first president who became ineligible for a third term following the imposition of term limits, meaning he had a hard eight-year legacy ceiling.
- He had serious health issues and suffered chronic, often debilitating pain from various conditions.
- And he was widely considered, even among his supporters, as worryingly inexperienced, having served in the House of Representatives for only six years, and the US Senate for only seven.
Less than six months after taking the oath of office, Kennedy inspired and galvanised a deeply divided, deeply skeptical nation with a bold, audacious vision of what could be. What should be.
The 1961 moon shot speech – in which Kennedy committed the US to land a man on the moon, and to return him safely, before the end of the decade – was a watershed moment in American history. Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had become the first human in space just six weeks earlier. The US responded, quickly and slightly panicked, by sending Alan Shephard on a short, suborbital flight just to claim equivalency.
The space race was on.
But the challenge of landing a man on the moon was nothing short of enormous. Very few scientists believed a moon landing could be accomplished in less than 20 years, let alone 10. There were simply too many unknowns, and too many undoables. Too many impossibles. Thousands of details had to be conceived, then figured out. Rockets had to be designed. Computers had to developed. And nobody knew the first thing about how to keep astronauts alive in space.
As Bruce Faure writes:
The idea that America could in the space of eight years go from the concept of a single stage rocket sub-orbital flight to the barely perceived spectacular technical challenges of escaping Earth orbit, coordinating a flight to an extra-terrestrial body, land on it, escape from it, return successfully to Earth, and do so with the enormously added complexity of sustaining fragile humans on board, approached the ridiculous.
Ridiculous. But not impossible.
On 20 July 1969 – just 2,979 days after Kennedy’s moon shot speech – US astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon.
One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind
The 1969 moon landing presents, on the face of it, as a story of tremendous technological accomplishment. A story of science, and engineering, and human accomplishment. It is all that. But it is, first and foremost, a story of leadership. Bold, audacious, visionary leadership that dares to imagine the unimaginable.
John F. Kennedy assumed the US presidency ill-equipped, by conventional standards, for what would become America’s most consequential moment. Ill-equipped, but for one powerful attribute: A fierce, burning, audacious vision.
Kennedy saw a world that others could not. He saw the power of a common goal, proclaimed, written down and etched into reality. The power of a shared narrative of success. And a shared commitment to bringing that vision to life. And he inspired others to see it, too. To see it. To believe it. And to unite in the urgency of bringing it to life
The 1969 moon landing was a stunning validation – in the most powerful, visceral way imaginable – of Kennedy’s audacious vision, and his power to mobilise others around this vision.
More than a race against time or technology, it was a race towards an idea that mattered. An idea that jumped the needle on progress in a bold and startling way.
An idea that would outlive him.
John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas on 12 November 1963. It would be another five-and-a-half years before the Apollo 11 moon landing. Five-and-a-half years of setbacks and comebacks. Of derailments and near-catastrophic failures.
But the vision endured.
And it continues to inspire us to think big. To dream audaciously. And to see leadership not as the art of the possible, but the artistry of the unimaginable.
We are not born to be timid.
We are born to be explorers, and inventors, and entrepreneurs. Thinkers and dreamers and doers.
Visionaries, who know that our grandest accomplishments are ahead of us.
Who see not only the mountains ahead, or the obstacles in between, but the valleys of opportunity beyond.
And who commit to the journey with vigour, with purpose, and with clear intent.
Audaciousness is in our genes.
It is the essence of life.
It is the essence of learning.
And it is the essence of leadership.
Yours in performance,