In 1961, President John F. Kennedy’s bold aspiration, to send an American safely to the moon before the end of the decade, motivated a nation and guided Projects Mercury, Gemini and Apollo to amazing levels of innovation.

While politically motivated to catch and surpass the Soviet Union’s space efforts, JFK’s promise is an example of how far-reaching vision and bold promises can drive action.

As you begin planning for next year, consider your own bold aspirations.

Kennedy detailed exactly what you need to do to achieve your bold aspiration:

“I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.”

Your bank or credit union likely has the resources and talents necessary to do amazing things. What I’ve found is that, too often, we don’t make the decisions to marshal the resources required to achieve them.

You need to specify long-range goals and set an urgent time schedule for a single-minded, tenacious push to excellence.

Define your purpose: Why it’s important.

“To win the battle … between freedom and tyranny.”

Your team needs to know the importance of your aspiration. Think about if-then statements. “If we achieve this, then we expect…” or “If we do not achieve this, then we expect…”

Set an aggressive goal based on corporate objectives:

“Landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”

Be specific. Be focused. What is the ONE THING that will most impact your success?

I once worked with a $275 million credit union with roughly 30,000 members who set a bold goal of $100 million in new loans in a given year. Although the previous year yielded only $59 million in year-to-date loans and despite the fact that the credit union had never achieved a six-figure loan goal, we were confident that a $100,000,000 new loan goal was aggressive, but achievable.

Set a clear deadline

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out.”

A firm deadline provides urgency and gives the team something to rally around. In the previous loan growth example, the credit union was a little short going into December, but given the timeline, the team made a final push to exceed the goal with $105 million in new loans.

How will you do it?

“We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations—explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight.”

Set your plan at a high level. Let the team know that management is providing the necessary resources to achieve your goal. Consider technology, staff training or new products. Relook at your business model, as if for the first time, with a single-minded focus on your bold aspiration.

Everyone is accountable in achieving the goal

“New objectives and new money cannot solve these problems. They could in fact, aggravate them further–unless every scientist, every engineer, every serviceman, every technician, contractor, and civil servant gives his personal pledge that this nation will move forward, with the full speed of freedom, in the exciting adventure of space.”

To achieve any bold aspiration, you need to be “all in.” You rarely luck your way into greatness. It takes a 100% effort from everyone to achieve a far-reaching vision. Demand detailed plans from every department specifying how they will contribute to the goal.

No excuses:

“If we are to go only half way, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgment it would be better not to go at all.”

This is, quite possibly, my favorite management quote of all time. But, Yoda may have said it better:

“Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Don’t Forget To…

Track with performance targets and timelines

On your journey to your deadline, you must share your progress along the way. During our loan growth goal, we created March of Dimes-style “thermometers” and filled them in monthly as we marched to our $100 million goal.

Set timelines with partial goals so that you always know how you are advancing in relation to the overall objective. These mini-goals can be specific to each department.

Communicate progress

In the spirit of a single-minded focus, your bold aspiration should be included in every meeting.

  • Where are we in relation to the goal?
  • What are we doing right now?
  • What is planned in the near future?
  • Are there hurdles that need to be overcome?
  • Do we need to add or reallocate resources?

JFK’s bold promise, set a course and ultimately led America in the space race. Apollo 11 still remains one of the highest achievements of human ingenuity. It made America the leader in rocket and computer innovation. It generated national pride and unity.  

What will your bold aspiration do for your institution? What will you become the leader in? How will you become the pride of your community?

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