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Written by: Dale A. Hicks, Licensed Psychologist, Certified CEO Effectiveness Coach

This post is written in response to “You’re Doing Great. So Why Aren’t Things Working?”

moon-landing-60582_1280In his insightful analogy, Bill has emphasized the importance of alignment across areas of functioning and the importance of understanding “why” we do what we do. Both are critical elements in achieving best outcomes, whether regarding physical health, organizational functioning or leadership effectiveness.

While watching a CNN television series on the 1960’s recently, I was reminded of one of our nation’s most inspiring achievements, which affords a wonderful historical example of the significance of these principles, as well as some additional factors in accomplishing great endeavors. I am referring to the remarkable success of our nation’s space program during the otherwise tumultuous and often divisive decade of the 1960’s. In his famous speech of September 12, 1962, President Kennedy offered this ambitious directive: “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, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills…”

Throughout his speech, he clearly articulated the benefits of this effort for the nation. In addition to sharing the principle of “doing the harder thing,” he demonstrated the importance of “why,” as he aligned the nation toward achieving a seemingly impossible goal. Through the rest of the decade, with the broadcast of every launch, every American was given an opportunity to follow the successes and failures (including some tragic) of this effort, until we were able to celebrate together in July, 1969, when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and returned safely to Earth.

I cannot imagine the enormity of contributions necessary to accomplish this mission from hundreds of public and private businesses and corporations, as well as tens of thousands of employees across the country. However, a well-known anecdote from that time reveals how this was accomplished within the space agency itself. While touring NASA in 1962, President Kennedy stopped and asked a maintenance worker “What are you doing?” His response was “Mr. President, I’m helping to put a man on the moon!”  Now, that is alignment!

This national achievement underscores a number of leadership success principles, each facilitated by greater self-knowledge: alignment of purpose, the importance of sharing “why” we do what we do, open communication and giving access to information, enlisting participation and involvement (ownership), and understanding that “doing the harder thing” often provides the greatest payoff.