David B. Grinberg en Leadership, Inspiration, beBee in English Communications Executive, Social Media Strategist, Writer & Editor • Large National Employer 22/11/2016 · 5 min de lectura · 5,3K

Tribute to JFK: 5 Lasting Leadership Lessons

Tribute to JFK: 5 Lasting Leadership Lessons

The date was Nov. 22, 1963. The place was Dallas, Texas. The historic tragedy was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (JFK). He was the youngest American President ever elected, at age 43, and the youngest to die in office.

JFK’s open motorcade was meandering down a street packed with eager onlookers standing elbow-to-elbow (pictured above). Citizens were hoping to catch a glimpse of the young American President who ushered in a new generation of leadership, including historic social and technological change.

Today, 53 years after his death, all generations can learn valuable leadership lessons from the JFK presidency. In particular, these five significant leadership lessons stand out for me:

  • Formulating and effectively communicating a bold vision,
  • Fostering innovative thinking and new technology,
  • Taking risks to advance a cause greater than oneself,
  • Following one's moral conscience despite public opinion, and
  • Advancing equal opportunity in the workplace and beyond.

Two important issues which exemplified JFK's leadership to inspire ordinary Americans and move the moral compass of the nation were civil rights and space exploration.

JFK’s risk-taking actions in these areas resulted in historic accomplishments.

Civil Rights Struggle

John F. Kennedy occupied the Oval Office during one of the most turbulent times of the post-World War II era. The non-violent civil rights movement led by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) was growing across the South and having a deep social impact on the conscience of the country – for blacks and whites alike.

The national mood was tense as police used unnecessary violence to stop otherwise peaceful demonstrations. This included beating civil rights marchers bloody with batons, unleashing K-9 attack dogs on them, and spraying down demonstrators with powerful water cannons.

It was a time of intense social upheaval and uncertainty. America faced a crossroads in the fight for equal opportunity for all citizens, regardless of race and color.

JFK played a pivotal role in persuading whites about the importance of civil rights.

He successfully framed  the civil rights movement as a historic struggle, not only over race but also for basic civil and human rights for all citizens under the U.S. Constitution.

Tribute to JFK: 5 Lasting Leadership Lessons * JFK meets with civil rights leaders in the Oval Office, including MLK and Congressman John Lewis (third and fourth from left)

Hearts & Minds

Through his leadership and executive management of the Federal Government, JFK helped change the hearts and minds of many bigoted whites for whom discrimination was a deeply rooted and well accepted aspect of society, especially in Southern states.

Nowhere was this more evident than when JFK directly addressed the nation on live TV -- and in public events -- to urge Americans to deeply search their souls and consciences regarding race in America. He convinced a large segment of society to stand up for what was morally right. In other words, equal opportunity for all.

JFK was instrumental in persuading Congress to join him in transforming the legal landscape and evolution of civil rights laws.

JFK's groundbreaking and heroic leadership transcended the times.

Today’s executive leaders and managers, plus a new generation of leadership (Millennials and Gen Z), should take note of the effective way in which JFK persuaded a divided nation to do the right thing despite fierce opposition -- including violence and death. 

He articulated the civil rights cause through a commanding use of communication (the presidential "Bully Pulpit") and decisive Executive Actions.

Tribute to JFK: 5 Lasting Leadership Lessons I suggest everyone read, Profiles in Courage, which JFK wrote as a junior U.S. Senator from Massachusetts.

The book, which won a Pulitzer Prize for biography, can help enhance executive leadership and management skills everywhere from Wall Street to Main Street USA.

While the book is based on political leadership and statesmanship, it likewise contains many valuable lessons for all executives and managers of every generation.

Turning the Tide

As noted above, JFK’s leadership and management skills helped turn the tide of the tumultuous civil rights struggle. He helped to ultimately usher in a new era of equal opportunity, the social impact of which is still felt today.

Among his civil rights achievements, JFK fought for and signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and laid the groundwork for subsequent passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 — which fundamentally altered how blacks were treated in nearly all aspects of public life.

In addition to civil rights giants like Martin Luther King, Jr. and others, JFK also gave voice to the concept of basic fairness and human dignity for all people. His bold vision moved the moral conscience of many bigoted white Americans.

To demonstrate his leadership and command of  communications in the era of TV, JFK delivered a consequential nationally televised address (watch video) on June 11, 1963, during the height of the civil rights struggle. The young president told the nation:

“We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and it is as clear as the American Constitution.”

"This nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all of its citizens are free.” -- JFK

Tribute to JFK: 5 Lasting Leadership Lessons

Thus, as we reflect on JFK’s many achievements 53 years following his untimely death, let’s remember one of his most lasting legacies:  

  • Fostering civil rights and equal justice for all during a time when discrimination and injustice were rampant in America.

Space Exploration

In addition to his historic civil rights record, JFK made a huge social impact on America in his quest to land the first men on the moon. Again, the young president harnessed his unique leadership skills to galvanize the nation through:

  • Formulating and effectively communicating a bold vision,
  • Fostering innovative thinking and new technology,
  • Following one's moral conscience despite public opinion,
  • Taking risks to advance a cause greater than oneself, and
  • Advancing economic opportunity in the workplace.

One can’t overemphasize the importance of JFK’s successfully leading and inspiring the nation to think big and take risks regarding human space exploration.

Moon Landing

JFK helped persuade Congress to super-size NASA's budget to an unprecedented amount leading up to the moon mission.

Tribute to JFK: 5 Lasting Leadership Lessons He understood the critical importance of America leading the world in space exploration, research and technology -- especially as the Soviet Union (USSR) appeared to be winning the Space Race.

According to Ten Presidents and NASA:

"On May 25, 1961, Kennedy addressed a joint session of Congress to announce his decision to go to the moon...He backed up this decision with remarkable financial commitments."

Under JFK, NASA’s budget was boosted by 89 percent in one year, and then by another walloping 101 percent the following year.

As JFK said during his famous "moon speech" in September 1962:

  • "I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the Presidency."

    Today, NASA is in need of the type of presidential leadership displayed by JFK. The space agency serves as a stark reminder of what’s possible when the U.S.  Government harnesses its full potential through presidential and congressional leadership, as evidenced by a rich history of landmark achievement.

    Tribute to JFK: 5 Lasting Leadership Lessons

    Final Thoughts

    In essence, when it comes to addressing contentious moral issues head on -- as well as fostering innovating thinking and bold leadership -- today’s corporate executives and young people alike can take a cue from JFK.

    There's good reason why John F. Kennedy remains one of the greatest and most beloved American Presidents.

    That's because he helped change the very fabric of society for the better. He led Americans to dream of what was once unimaginable. Thus, JFK deserves to be remembered and honored today, more than half a century after his untimely death which devastated the nation and shocked the world.

    The next American President needs to emulate JFK's bold leadership, visionary thinking and decisive action, even though it may diverge from popular public opinion.

    It's been said that the test of real leadership is leading people where they don't want to go. Thus, let's hope President-elect Donald J. Trump can emulate some of the leadership lessons learned from JFK.

    America and the world will all be better for it.


    * Photo Credits: Getty Images, JFK Presidential Library,  NASA

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    Tribute to JFK: 5 Lasting Leadership Lessons ABOUT THE AUTHOR: I'm an independent writer and strategic communications advisor with over 20 years of experience in the public and private sectors -- including work in the White House, Congress and national news media. I'm also a Brand Ambassador for beBee Affinity Social Network. You can also find me buzzing around on Twitter, Medium and LinkedIn.

    NOTE: All views and opinions are those of the author only and not official statements or endorsements of any public sector employer, private sector employer, organization or political entity.

    CityVP 🐝 Manjit 15/12/2016 · #28

    He certainly put the L in Leadership. Good reminder to one day pick up a copy of Profiles in Courage. I was only young enough to remember his brother Robert being shot, I remember the horror of it as a 7 year starring into small black and white television, while my dad was painting the room. Later on as a 40 year old, my first visit to Arlington Cemetery included the goal of visiting Robert Kennedy's grave - having seen the great tribute to JFK, I was shocked to find a small white cross on the grass, so humble, so unassuming. It is amazing to think that Robert Kennedy could actually have been an even greater President than his brother had been - two great leaders, two great losses.

    +2 +2
    David B. Grinberg 30/11/2016 · #27

    #26 Thanks for taking the time to read and, Pascal. I think your keen observation might be a vast understatement: "There seem to be some confusion between thought provoking and provocative leadership at the moment."
    Let's hope things take a turn for the better.

    +2 +2
    Pascal Derrien 29/11/2016 · #26

    a very good summary of a tipping point in American history, I think MLK said something along the lines that at times of morale crisis one cannot be be neutral. So I would say good America as there seem to be some confusion between thought provoking and provocative leadership at the moment :-)

    +2 +2
    Sushmita Thakare Jain 29/11/2016 · #25

    #24 Yes, @David B. Grinberg was talking about the movie 'Jackie' will be watching it for two reasons one seems to be a good one and the leading lady Natalie Portman like her work.
    Also thank you for your appreciation and kind words it motivates!

    +1 +1
    David B. Grinberg 29/11/2016 · #24

    #23 Thank YOU, @Sushmita Thakare Jain, for your kind words and positive social media engagement. I also appreciate that you shared this on Twitter, thanks again. It sounds like that movie about Jackie Kennedy should be a good one. Keep buzzing onward and upward! beBee is fortunate to have you here.

    Sushmita Thakare Jain 28/11/2016 · #23

    This post built my Leadership goals! Or if I may say helped me well define it. Thank you @David B. Grinberg for sharing with us an inspiring post of an inspiring personality. Hes was a great man and his work has inspired many, there is an upcoming movie Jackie the plot follows Jackie Kennedy in the days when she was First Lady in the White House and then her life following the assassination of her husband I am looking forward to watch it as well.
    Must say David thank you for the inspiring post!

    +3 +3
    Luiz Henrique Souza .E. 28/11/2016 · #22

    You know... I just remeber 4 peoples in the car not 6... Maybe i'm wrong...

    By the way i bealive he was a great man...

    +2 +2
    David B. Grinberg 27/11/2016 · #21

    Thank you @Lance Scoular for graciously sharing this post on your dozens of Twitter handles. I cannot put into words how much your kind support is appreciated, mate, and how much I appreciate YOU!
    Wishing you all the best, as always, Lance. Keep buzzing onward and upward!
    cc: @Javier beBee @John White, MBA

    +1 +1