I’ve had the great learning opportunity to participate in the McKinsey Management Program for School Leaders through the National Association of Secondary School Principals. It has provided tremendous growth around the area of communication and mastering challenging conversations. Perhaps the greatest challenge any of us faces in our personal and professional lives revolves around the need to communicate clearly and effectively and to understand the needs of others around us.
As part of this learning, I have networked with cohorts who are educational leaders in a variety of school settings and we have analyzed together some of the most effective communication pieces in society and our nation’s history. What messages stick and why don’t others stick? How do some communicators seem to be so relatable while other speakers never capture their audience’s attention and therefore fail to move them to action? These are important questions to consider in working with others.
I recently reviewed President John F. Kennedy’s address at Rice University from September 12, 1962 where he lays out the challenge of reaching the moon. He discussed enormous barriers to doing this safely and acknowledged that the country was losing the “space race” to the Soviet Union. He asked the question that was on the minds of many skeptics and critics, “Why choose this goal?” He responded, “…because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…” President Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard…” You can find a link to the transcript and video of the speech at JFK Library President’s Address at Rice
This challenged my thinking about the need to set challenging goals, audacious goals, stretch goals, whatever you want to call them. When we cast this type of a vision with our staff or our students or our community, there will be some that will ask, “Why choose this goal? Can we really do that?” Or some will just mumble (or articulate loudly), “We can’t do that. There’s no way. We’ve never tried that before. We’re not even close to that,” and so on.
In the opening of the speech, President Kennedy stated, “We meet at a college noted for knowledge, in a city noted for progress, in a State noted for strength, and we stand in need of all three, for we meet in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade of hope and fear, in an age of both knowledge and ignorance. The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds.” This speech was delivered in 1962, yet I think we could still say that our current times reflect change and challenge, hope and fear, knowledge and ignorance. As leaders, we need to use our knowledge, a commitment to progress and our strength for those we serve. We need to shoot for the moon for our kids. They deserve our loftiest aspirations and our best efforts. We need to do it for them – not because making the changes needed are easy, but precisely because they are hard.