Leadership – We Are Greater Together
“Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.” Neil Armstrong
I was 18 on July 21, 1969 when Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon. The challenge to go to the moon was given to a joint session of Congress by President Kennedy in May of 1961. I was 10 when the President created a master vision. What was amazing about his declaration is that much of the technology to get us to the moon and back did not exist in 1961. What did this all mean to those of us that were alive in 1969; what does it mean today?
It is hard to believe that we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing this month. Fortunately, we lived in a time where we could create video documentation of the process to get us there, and the 8 + days that the mission lasted. Even for those who weren’t alive in 1969, we are all able to relive those amazing moments – what some label as man’s greatest technological achievement.
Running parallel to this remarkable journey and achievement was the decade of political and social unrest unlike any we have seen since. Looking at the two events side by side is a wonderful example of a living paradox. Just as we are a combination of dark and light, our world reflects the same.
As we enter July, summer is now in full swing – well, kind of. Many of us have had abnormally wet, cooler weather, with a great deal of flooding and damage from tornadoes. It makes me wonder what ‘normal’ weather looks like. Is this the new normal? Is climate change not a real thing? I happen to believe it is, but also know that ‘trends’ are formed over a long period of time. We’ll see what is evolving.
For now, we have much to celebrate this month with July 4th and July 21st. Let’s celebrate our freedom, and man’s ability to be creative in how we innovate to meet our goals.
Thanks to those of you who commented on the last series on our ‘inner work’ as people/leaders. It is always welcomed, and most appreciated to learn what had meaning for you.
Be well and do your best work,
The Paradox of the 1960’s
It was May of 1961 when President Kennedy addressed a joint session of Congress to put forth the ambitious goal of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade. I was 10. When I looked at the full moon after that I was in awe to think we could put a human being on the moon and bring them home safely. I was one of a million 10 year-olds who wanted to be an astronaut.
The ‘Space Age’ officially began October 4, 1957 with the Russian launching of an artificial satellite (Sputnik). Game on. As David Halberstam wrote in The Fifties, “The success of Sputnik seemed to herald a kind of technological Pearl Harbor, which was exactly what Edward Teller said it was.” It was a terrible blow to our prestige and perceived military capability. It would be January 1958 before the US would launch Explorer I and enter the space race. The backlash from our ‘falling behind’ led to increase emphasis on scientific education and military spending.
An understanding of the early stages of the cold war with Russia is helpful to understand the animosity that existed between our two countries. Many believe that the pressure that President Kennedy was under because of Russia getting into space first, and his failed Bay of Pigs operation in Cuba, were two major contributors for the President to come up with the master vision of going to the moon.
Regardless of the reason, Kennedy’s vision helped galvanize us toward a singular goal. It was a competition. The President had thrown down the gauntlet, and Americans would get behind this goal. In his speech at Rice University in September, 1962, President Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the moon (and other things)…not because it is easy but because they are hard.” His youthful exuberance was infectious and full of challenge, hope, and a sense that we would get this done. He cast a grand vision that created new energy among our nation.
In the midst of launching the Apollo program were the seeds of discord. Over the next seven years we would see not only President Kennedy assassinated, but his brother Bobby, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X representing a part of the civil and social unrest that existed. Even with Dr. King’s promotion of the dream of a colorblind society, instead of seeing the justice desired by so many, the nation instead was gripped by civil disorder. The civil rights and Vietnam antiwar movements, and the emerging action by youth merged two groups that had previously been politically and socially separate.
Race riots, and police brutality were evident on multiple occasions during the 60’s. For the first time in our history the political establishment and the police were under attack about their legitimacy.
It was a time that the country was torn apart by racial divide, violence, and social unrest. Running parallel was the Mercury space program followed by the Apollo program. Step by step – unmanned rockets, sending a chimp into orbit, Alan Shepherd, John Glenn, we were witnessing ‘pioneers’ in every sense of the word. The astronauts were the public face of those pioneers, but there were thousands of others who showed courage and took risk to create the building blocks we would need for the ‘ultimate’ mission. Each one understood that their contribution was vital to the success of the mission. This was a great example of execution that successful businesses use today to be successful – create the vision, define the roles, help everyone be clear about their role, be accountable for the completion of the action steps on a timely basis, report on the KPI’s, make adjustments as necessary.
When we look back on the 60’s into the 70’s the optimism for social and political change was thwarted to a great extent by the force of the police rather than progressive political change or reform. When we compare that time to this, Dr. Stephen Kappeler, Police Studies instructor at Eastern Kentucky University captures it well by saying,
“While the rhetoric of American politics has changed tremendously since the 1960’s many of the underlying social tensions that kindled the fires of the “days of rage” continue to smolder, especially today as political leaders dismantle the remnants of the Great Society. The American impulse for foreign intervention persists today; the economic class divides too often marked by race, gender, and difference in education as well as the ability to secure meaningful employment have not been bridged; and, the willingness of the state to wield police power to squash domestic dissent remains.”
The story of the moon landing permeates the fabric of society. Many will say it represents the best of who America is/was. Ingenuity, bold, willing to take risk, no job too hard, the best and the brightest, no problem too tough were some of the many descriptors used to describe the moon effort. As we prepare to celebrate 50 years there is great jubilation over what we were/are able to accomplish. It is a moment of great pride, as it should be. I am proud to have lived during this time and encouraged and hopeful about what it demonstrates about America at its best. I am also deeply saddened and concerned that the social and political fractures of the 60’s are in some ways worse today. I believe until we can bring a more collaborative spirit and behavior to the large problems we face, we will continue to experience the disenfranchisement of millions, and continue to experience the fractures that divide us. I remain hopeful that that which unites us will emerge the stronger force going forward. In the decade of the 60’s, the space program was a beautiful example of us united.
To your journey and living out the best version of you…
Of Interest: Policing Political Upheaval in the 1960’s and Today: Which Side Are You On? https://plsonline.eku.edu/insidelook/policing-political-upheaval-1960s-and-today-which-side-are-you
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