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Ever tried to explain to someone what you want, only to have something completely different delivered a week late? And you are left scratching your head and wondering why?

George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”. Effective communication is a pre-requisite for effective leadership.

To illustrate this, here’s a story so sensitive that it was classified and declared “Top Secret” for more than 50 years. The US government released this classified information only a few years ago.

On January 10, 1961, almost 55 years ago to this date, as he prepared to take office as president, John F. Kennedy received a report from his advisors telling him that manned exploration of space would certainly become a reality during his administration, but “because of lag in the development of large booster rockets, it was very unlikely the U.S. would be the first in placing a man into orbit around the earth.”

In spite of this gloomy assessment, in a speech four months later, President Kennedy publicly announced, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” That was the ultimate assignment.

Shortly thereafter, Kennedy scheduled a top secret meeting with NASA Administrators. “Is the lunar program to land a man on the moon the top priority of the Agency?” Kennedy asked James Webb of NASA. Kennedy asked this specific question three more times in this meeting. “No, sir, I do not,” James Webb finally answered Kennedy – his boss. “I think it is ONE of the top-priority programs” he said.

“Jim, I think it is THE top priority,” Kennedy said, sharply. “I think we ought to have that very clear. This is important for political reasons, international political reasons. This is the top priority with us.”

By making it clear that putting a man on the moon within the decade should be the number one priority for NASA, Kennedy made it abundantly clear where the focus of the agency should be. Over the course of this meeting, which really wasn’t very long, Kennedy asked more than 66 specific questions about this assignment – clarifying roles, responsibilities, deadlines and details – that brought out clearly to those in attendance why this was such an important mission.

On July 20, 1969, five months before the deadline Kennedy had originally set, Neil Armstrong stepped out of the Apollo lunar module to become the first man on the moon.

What can we learn from Kennedy’s communication? First, he asked a lot of questions. He did not assume anything. Through his questioning he not only gleaned that the priority for NASA was not the same as he had in mind. Second, he used the questions to convey clearly what he thought the priority should be. By peppering them with multitude of questions that went into the details everyone understood that Kennedy was serious about this mission. Last and most importantly, Kennedy made it clear in no uncertain terms what the number one priority for NASA should be.

When delegating important projects many executives want to achieve a lot of different objectives. This sometimes leaves subordinates without a clear understanding of what should be the number one priority, so that they can focus their energies on getting this one priority right.

Whether it is getting a report done or a new software implemented, knowing the priority is critical for people to execute well. If your boss doesn’t communicate this clearly don’t be afraid to ask. You’ll save yourself and your boss a lot of trouble.

In our last column we posed a challenge to you to design the most “wow-check-in-experience” for a seven-star hotel. Thank you for your many interesting submissions, all of which were not only innovative but clearly showed that we in Trinidad can indeed dream up some wonderful ways in which to wow a customer.

Here’s the simple and most effective process the seven-star hotel used to create the seven-star experience. Since you are picked up at the airport in your own white-limousine, when you arrive at the hotel everyone knows who you are. The host walks out and welcomes you to the hotel with a choice of chocolates and drink. They then usher you straight to your room. No forms to fill or credit card to swipe – because they already have all that information when you booked the hotel. At the room they introduce you to your butler, who makes sure you’re comfortably settled in your room, draws a bath, if you want, offers to unpack your luggage, and most of all leaves you to relax and rest. As he is leaving he mentions casually that whenever you are ready you could ring for him and he will come and take your signature to complete your check-in process.

The key to this process, as you can see is, it did not involve any expensive technology solution. And it addressed the primary need of a customer when he or she arrives at a hotel after a long flight or tiresome journey – which is to get to a comfortable room and take some rest and relax – not fill out another form and be validated to see if you’ve enough money on your credit card to afford to stay at the hotel.

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