Every real innovation needs a courageous leader who can stand his ground when problems hit. If you are wondering whether you are the right one, get inspired by this piece about leadership and JFK.
“I believe that this Nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”
This is how the American President John Fitzgerald Kennedy introduced one of the biggest innovations of human kind in May 1961.
His words are also the prime example of managerial speech about innovations that a company would need. If a company is to be successful in innovations then every boss needs to find a piece of Kennedy in him/her. So that he or she can stand up and say something people will believe and will be ready to follow. Because no matter how controversial Kennedy’s presidential abilities were he achieved his goal: he put a man on the Moon.
President Kennedy’s situation is of course from the perfect example category. NASA was from the very beginning and innovation agency. Because the Soviet Union was leading the space race at the time, there were virtually no limits to financial or personnel possibilities.
None of the Czech companies can probably afford such approach. However, who wants to be successful in innovations must come close to it. If not in unlimited financial resources then it has to be in terms of atmosphere, enthusiasm and desire.
There is no other option. If you want to be successful in the long-term you have to give your people “the way to the Moon” and get them excited for it.
The lifetime of successful businesses has fallen more than three times in the last 100 years. In 1958 an average S&P 500 corporation had a lifetime of 60 years. In the 80s it was 25. Now it is 18 years and the speed with which the companies on the index are being overtaken is constantly increasing.
Thanks to the perfect conditions the Apollo project was successful. Neil Armstrong footprints were on the Moon by 1969. It would not happen without a personal commitment of thousands of engineers, technicians and developers. It would not happen without the courage of the astronauts who did not know whether they would survive the mission. Three of them did not. It would not happen without NASA bosses who made decisions and managed the project. It would not happen without Kennedy himself taking the main responsibility for the project.
That takes us to the crucial thing. The most important one.
Leader is the stepping stone for creating an innovative environment. Leader must find courage to take a risk. And not only that. Leader must have courage to listen and ask in order to understand what customer problems are – even when the answers are not exactly favorable for his company. Then, the leader must find even more courage to make a decision as to what the company will do. He cannot lose it even when committing more resources, because space flights sometimes fail and cost a lot of money.
On top of that, the leader must keep the spirit high and make people believe in results even in hard times – and hard times will undoubtedly come. He must listen to them and take what they propose seriously.
Sounds difficult? It sure is. But that is the job of the leader who wants to take the company further. He must become a leader with all it encompasses – commitment, determination, reliability, confidence and fairness. If he can do it then his company will be successful. And he will be the one people will follow even to the Moon and back.
The United States leader’s courage paid off.
The US has invested more than 23,85 billion dollars into lunar exploration over 11 years. However, when the economists quantified the economic benefit of the Apollo project, they reached 350 billion dollars.
This piece was published in API – Akademie produktivity a inovací magazine in edited version.