Leading In Turbulent Times IV

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“…he set a dramatic goal for the…team:  even though they had never won anything, Lyndon told them that for the first time in the history of the school, the team would win not only the city and district competitions, but would go on to the state championship.  Straightaway, he had set a psychological target to elevate the team’s ambition before the season ever got underway.”

–     Doris Kearns Goodwin, on Lyndon Johnson, in his early role as debate team coach at Sam Houston High School, in her book Leadership:  In Turbulent Times

Setting psychological targets.  Elevating ambition.  In advance.

The job of a leader is to get more from the team than the team believes they can accomplish.  Having the vision, courage and belief in possibilities is fundamental to being a difference-making leader, in good times and tough times.

Arbitrary target setting is not the same thing as setting psychological targets.

“We will achieve ___% growth selling the same products the same way into the same shrinking market at the same price without adapting our story” is not setting a psychological target or elevating the ambitions of the team.  Companies large-and-small, public-and-private face that challenge.  Now, on the other hand, let’s revisit JFK’s “man on the moon” speech at Rice Stadium on May 25, 1961.  Make no mistake, some of the people closest to Kennedy and many of the people within NASA thought he had lost his mind when he made this speech.  But on July 20, 1969 when “the eagle landed,” and a few hours later, on July 21st when Neil Armstrong took his “one small step,” the accomplishment tied back to the psychological target and elevated ambition Kennedy provided.  The speech is rife with reasons the audacious task could and should be done, each tied to a principle and / or an accomplishment that gave reason-to-believe it could and should be done.

Johnson was deeply committed to the man-on-the-moon goal when he took over for Kennedy after his assassination — and success was made possible, in part, by a mindset that Johnson portrayed when taking over a debate team that had “never won anything” decades before.

(Read the speech if you need a pick-me-up from the current political rhetoric…it’s pretty amazing and casts some interesting context if we attach it to conditions of today….but I digress…)

Honest Abe, Rough-Riding Teddy, FDR and LBJ were tasked with leading during very turbulent times.  Any turbulence we face might be less grandiose in nature, but to the teams we lead, it may be every bit as impactful.

Lessons:  From Lincoln — How curious are we?  How compelled are we to understand?  From Theodore Roosevelt — how well are we connecting to those around us?  From Franklin Roosevelt — how deep, talented and loyal is the team we’re assembling and sustaining?  And from Johnson — what psychological targets are we putting in place to elevate the ambitions of the team and those whom we influence?

The Daily Difference will take some time off for Spring Break next week, and return on March 25th.  

 

 


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