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Leadership – inspiring a vision and leading from the bottom up

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I am constantly blown away by examples of outstanding leadership over the years which remain so relevant in our modern age. I hope you enjoy this example – it’s a personal favourite of mine on so many levels and it still inspires me in terms of how our global leadership, here at the new Buck, continues to push the boundaries to lead a positive, diverse and inclusive organisation.

In 1961, President John F Kennedy told the world that the USA was committed to putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade. As I understand it, he was originally not that keen on the idea but the Soviet cosmonauts progressing in the ‘Space Race’ caused a change of heart.

Shortly after his statement, JFK visited Cape Canaveral in Florida. (It wouldn’t be called the Kennedy Space Center until after his untimely death in 1963.) On his visit he broke off from a guided tour to speak to a janitor who was sweeping the floor.

JFK asked, “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?”

In response, the NASA operative gave the now legendary response, “Well Mr President, I’m helping put a man on the moon.”

To me there are two massive things going on here.

Firstly, the janitor has been inspired. He knows what NASA has been tasked to do. He is completely aligned in his organisation’s objective and he is completely focussed that he has a part to play in that shared objective. That doesn’t happen by accident. The leaders of NASA have shared their goal – communicated and ensured all their team understand and buy into the shared objective. And clearly they did a massively good job – the person who, very respectfully, swept the floors – he knew it. If every man and woman in the team between him and JFK knew it, then frankly what a job of inspiration the NASA leaders did.

At this point the leadership and management books usually conclude the case study as a ‘job well done’, but for me the story doesn’t end there. Not by half.

You see, for me, the bit about the janitor knowing the shared vision is not the important part of this story; it is surpassed by something far, far more important.

That is what happened seconds before. JFK, the President of the USA and arguably the leader of the free world, broke off from a tour of his own country’s flagship space centre to speak to the person who was, well, sweeping the floor.

I’ll let that statement rest with you for a moment.

That is leadership. Leading from the bottom. Treating all of the team, whatever their role, with the respect and inclusiveness they rightly deserve and which will make them perform, towards the shared vision, in a way you and I cannot possibly imagine.

That is the upside down pyramid that Jack Freker, the new Buck CEO, is encouraging us all to think about as we humbly take on the exciting responsibility of leading the new Buck into 2019 and beyond.

And that, together with ensuring all your team fully understand your shared vision, is how I encourage you all to think about your leadership roles as you tackle the exciting year ahead.

JFK – thanks for the lesson. RIP.

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