Neil Armstrong’s birthday was August 5th and it got me thinking about one of my favorite stories of all time. It’s a story about President John F. Kennedy. After he had declared we were going to go to the Moon, John F Kennedy visited NASA for the first time, in 1961. He saw a man carrying a broom and pushing a big wastebasket on wheels and he interrupted the meeting he was in to get up, walk over to the man, and say,
“Hello. I’m Jack Kennedy. What is it you do here at NASA?”
And the man looked at him, stood up a little straighter, and said proudly, “Why President Kennedy, I put men on the Moon!”
That story gives me goosebumps from my wrists to my ankles every time I hear it. It’s a shining example of what I call an “empowering context”.
Your number 1 job as a Leader
I very strongly believe that your #1 job as a leader is to continuously remind people of the empowering context for what they do, and for what you all do as a team. And, that is only more true in today’s climate, than ever! Finding, sharing, and holding the empowering context is important in every aspect of your work and your life. There is the empowering context for you—in your position—doing the things you do. There is the empowering context for your team, and the contribution you make together to the overall mission. There is the empowering context for the entire company and the difference you make in the world as an organization. There is also the empowering context for you and the bigger picture of your life, your family, your legacy, and what really has you get out of bed in the morning.
I strongly encourage you to take just a minute or two, right now, to stop, think about, and create your empowering context for the coming week. As you do what you do, push papers, make calls, take meetings, etc. what is the bigger, more powerful context for all of it? What is the real, deep, underlying motivation for you, for your team, and your company for showing up this week?
And then, the thing that will make that matter even more, is for you to share it! When you talk to your team, or your clients or your colleagues, go ahead and say something like: “I was thinking about everything we do this weekend, and why I care so much, and why we all work so hard together and I realized… (this is where you share your empowering context – ie, the look on the faces of patients when they finally find us, the joy I see in the faces of the people we serve, whatever it really is for you, share it! I can promise you it will land for your team and it’s very likely they will want to chime in with their takes on what you say, too.
This is something that I encourage all the leaders whom I serve to do in some way or another—at every opportunity they get. It’s a great way to open a meeting or close a meeting. It’s also something that you can bring into personal conversations, client conversations, and supplier conversations. It matters to everyone.
This Is More Important Now That We Are Distributed
And, in the world of distributed work, this is a very powerful way to keep people engaged and productive and connected. And, as we are all finding out more and more every day, that’s not always easy and it’s becoming more and more important as it becomes clear there is no easy end in sight.
So, are you laying bricks? Or, are you building a temple! I’m pretty sure I know the answer to that. Now, go share it with the world!