John F. Kennedy was one of the many inspiring leaders that were of great importance to our country’s history and to the history of outstanding leaders. JFK grew up as a privileged young man that had opportunity sitting in the palms of his hands through his family’s political and social ties (Selverstone.) Kennedy was Catholic born and raised in Boston, MA and was taught early of great leadership and management by his father Joseph Kennedy Sr. with his investing, business, and political career experiences. JFK suffered much from his constant sickness in his adolescence years, but that did not hold him back from his intense determination and selflessness at become a successful leader (Selverstone). During his collegiate years at Harvard, he started his public impact with his publishing of Why England Slept and also went on to serve in the military during WWII (Selverstone). He became well recognized by his service in the Navy where he commanded a PT boat against the Japanese which won him the Purple Heart. This accomplishment led to his service in the House of Representatives in in1947-53 and in the Senate in 1953-1961 (Selverstone). He then went on to become the first Catholic and also the youngest in history elected President of the United States in 1961 which was short lived due to his assassination. I chose Kennedy because he was a visionary as he acquired his sense of leadership at such a young age. His determination, and inspiring acts of leadership hinted at what all leaders should be like and left and unfinished legacy that we as leaders can learn from and reflect upon in our paths as leaders, and as human beings.
His legacy began on July 15th, 1960, when he accepted his nomination as the Democratic Candidate in the run for Presidency where he gratefully accepts his role, and begins his path to a recognizable role as the executive leader of the United States. JFK realized his handicap in the run as a Catholic man, which people were uncertain of him for this reason and knew that it would be a huge area of speculation in the principalities of the nation’s typical candidate. He recognized this and was not afraid to address the uncertainty in his speech accepting his nomination. JFK clearly showed great potential with his characteristics of leadership as he quickly gained public respect in his years in the House of Representatives and in the US Senate. He continues to demonstrate this potential with his mindset and goals proposed in his nominee speech of the Democratic Party. Right off the bat, he sets his moral standard and ensures his effort to maintain and equal and ethical purpose considering the likes of everyone’s civil rights. His first principle is to abide by the “Rights of Man” and include all individuals in his understanding that everyone deserves equal civil and economic right in which he exclaims with great confidence that he can maintain expertly as he describes as his “obligation to devote every effort of body, mind, and spirit (Kennedy). Kennedy recognizes the nature of his situation with his religious devotions by openly and honestly confronting the idea of doubt and uncertainty in the ability to maintain his professionalism and integrity to uphold his oath to adhere to the importance of fair decision making as he had done for 14 years prior to his nomination (Kennedy). The clear cut proclamations made in his extreme belief in the ideal of separation of church and state, shows how determined he is to maintain the trust and confidence the American people had put in him answering the call of true leadership. Leadership, as described by James MacGregor Burns, should be exerted without designating absolute power, persuasion, manipulation through publicity, nor oppression (Leadership). JFK exemplifies in effective communication and addresses potential conflict by providing pure truth which empowered the emotions and beliefs of others in particular how he words his statements. For instance he explicitly states his intention on enlightening the public where he says “I am telling you now what you are entitled to know: that my decisions on any public policy will be my own—as an American, a Democrat, and a free man” (Kennedy). Inclusion in a common goal is vital in effective leadership. Kennedy shows how his style of leadership is one to be remembered and learned from in his participation to work for the betterment of humanity as a whole.
The role as President of the first Democracy created to evade unjust treatment and tyranny, gives many reason to fight alongside like-minded individuals that will lay it all on the line to safeguard the many freedoms we have. That is why Kennedy became so liked and innovative, because he followed the idea of collective leadership. As Kennedy believes in the preservation of the greatness of America, so do the citizens that inhabit it. The relationship created by his words and purpose are what create this collectiveness, and forms the strong bond with his followers in order to organize their beliefs through Kennedy by forming a “relationship that bonds leader and follower together in social and political collectivity” (Burns 419). A big concept that Kennedy was always contributing to, was challenging the status quo. His vision for the betterment of the nation and responding to arising conflict worldwide is one of his great characteristics. Leaders with passionate visions that appeal to the needs of potential and/or current followers are what bring out true inspirations from those that will end up giving all they have to follow an effective leader. The charisma and patriotism appealing to the future out each individual’s family and country is how he won the hearts in his race to win presidency with the emotional connection (Burns 421). JFK’s courage is very moving to new goals, challenges, and expectations as his goal is not to do the minimum, but to do more as “today there can be no status quo” (Kennedy).
The technology that is emerging in the world and put in the hands of young, power hungry ‘leaders’ were seen by him as a danger to all of mankind. He calls out to the citizens to follow him and join the New Frontier, a stand against this type of totality. In Simon Sinek’s article How Great Leaders Inspire Action, he explains the need for effective leaders to bring out a set of challenges that bring out the purpose in people. Like Burns and Sinek both highlight the importance not to sell a product or leadership, but to offer an idea, something to believe in. Peter Drucker labels this expertise that Kennedy clearly displays as the need to ask one’s self as an executive, in this situation would be said as; what is right for the American people? What must be done to ensure the future of this nation, and of humanity (What Makes an Effective Executive)? Kennedy saw the need to plan a change in response of Communism spreading, Russia trying to explore outer space, and the creation of Machines taking jobs rather than using it to enhance peoples’ skills (Democratic Nomination). He uses his motivational skills to call to the people by comparing them to those in search of a better life that had explored west and established this nation (Kennedy). Seeing the fight that is to come, to test a leader of nations, to sit and enjoy life is not enough but to demand more and test the will, the pride, the belief in a nation and its people. As JFK says “For courage—not complacency—is our need today—leadership—no salesmanship” shows his desire to ensure the future of the nation and the need achieve new goals by testing those that follow (Kennedy).
Kennedy’s inspiring speech is what really began the process of his innovation; by giving the people a new reason to find purpose, a common belief and goal being the sake of the future of the sons and daughters of all citizens and those around the world; his popularity increased. Effective leaders are able to see past themselves and understand problematic changes in an organization. Kennedy sees this as the opportunity to start this process of change in order to react in a timely manner, also known as a planned change (Griffin 170). Kennedy’s positive affectivity is what made people listen so that they could realize that his intentions were selfless and depended on the reaction of his followers so they could see in his perspective (Griffin 237). His Organizational commitment involved more than just himself as it appealed to everybody that cared about our nation and its prosperity (Griffin 237). James MacGregor Burns describes this type of leadership as transformational as it uplifts the people (422). He embodies JFK well where he says “Leaders engage with followers, but from higher levels of morality; in the enmeshing of goals and values both leaders and followers are raised to more principled levels of judgement” (422). Kennedy acknowledges the responsibility and sacrifice he asks of the public for the betterment of each other no matter the differences uniting people for a common goal. “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty” (Kennedy Inaugural Address).
Notice the wording in the quote above; “we, us, etc.” he speaks with the inclusion of all in his address. JFK’s effective communication through his wording is what displays his effectivity. In his Inaugural Address, he demonstrates the organization and his own personal commitment to the cause of morality and freedom, something that any American would be appealed to considering the purpose of the founding of this nation in 1776; life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Kennedy seems to represent well some of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Firstly; physiological, understood as “basic issues of survival and biological function;” which would cease to exist if tyrants such in this instance, the communists were to take the very freedoms to exercise our physiological needs at our discretion (Griffin 262). Secondly, belongingness; JFK’s inclusion of all Americans is vibrant in his innovational efforts to ensure the liberty of our nation and those of our allies in the collective understanding of the social standard he demonstrates making all feel belonging (Griffin 262). Third, the needs for esteem; he sets this standard of the need for respect within and without the organization/nation in their efforts to break all from the shackles that hold people back from their freedoms recognizing that everyone is equal (Griffin 262). Most of all, Kennedy recognizes the needs of self-actualization. He makes it imperative in his efforts to change how technology has affected the ability to keep jobs and gain intellect. He sees the potential in his fellow Americans and challenges them to fight for this need by joining his “New Frontier” with sights on goals to explore outer space and undiscovered pieces of the world that help grow the overall knowledge of the people (Griffin 263). Kennedy sees his responsibility in enabling the growth and potential of the nation and of the world by putting their needs and of their futures over his own (Drucker What Makes an Effective Executive).
Kennedy was empathetic to the problems that looked past just the American people, but all people. He wanted to improve overall life and relations with those around the world by empowering the people he led. His intentions were to unite the nations abroad in the efforts to delegate control to others in his efforts to maintain peace with countries like Russia. Further exemplifying Peter Drucker’s claims of an effective executive where Kennedy asks of the people; “Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort” (Inaugural Address). He called upon the hearts of each individual in the cause to fight against “tyranny, poverty, disease, and war” all of which are important to all humanity in a mutual effort to live well making this an argument of being up to the people rather than just him (Inaugural Address).
Effective leadership does not always come as one that has brought the most success, or from a perfect individual, or as an individual’s idea of what a great leader should be like. JFK certainly was not perfect, or was he always doing the right things behind the scenes. But what he did was give us a brief exposure of how great leadership should be carried out and implemented in areas of high stakes. JFK’s reign of leadership was short lived due to his death and left behind an enormous group of believers of an ideal, a purpose, an inspiration, a set of goals, and courage that united a people for a cause greater than any individual. Kennedy supported an overall call for equity around the world along with peace in a stressful time with Cuba and Russia, yet he risked it all in order to maintain that peace such as his handling for the Cuban Missile Crisis (Brinkley). He decided to act upon the touchy issue of civil rights by creating a new bill on civil rights, voting rights, and programs that would aid those in need which did not go to pass during his time, but did later on (Brinkley). He countlessly demonstrated his ability to communicate openly and honestly while doing so motivationally and inspiring people. He was very committed and confident about his ideals and involving the world with his goal to make the world a better place for all and took a course of action in doing so. Simon Sinek despises the likes of politics today as they only seem to talk about things instead of create some sort of purpose, or inspiration. He describes Kennedy’s leadership legacy best and provides an example of why he was and still is recognized as an effective leader where he says; “Whether they’re individuals or organizations, we follow those who lead, not because we have to, but because we want to. We follow those who lead, not for them, but for ourselves” (How Great Leaders Inspire Action).
JFK left a great legacy for not only me, but for other great leaders in the world. He taught us how to take calculated risks in high pressure situations. He taught us how to be responsible for our decision making and shown us the importance that is present in the need for virtuous decision making skills. JFK has left us with the example of how important creating self-sacrificing goals that inspire others to find their purpose, to help take action, and to follow vigorously in what we believe in or intend to accomplish. He displayed how vital the need for strong communication skills plays a role in not only the cohesiveness of an organization or teams, but for the purpose of enlightening others and show that we as leaders are also listening to each other rather than just talking. He showed us how trust and integrity goes both ways by being true to you in regards to specific morals and principles. Kennedy has also shown us the need to learn from the past in order to ensure a more promising future which was in his case avoiding war and global catastrophe. The biggest lesson he left with us is to be able to see in the other persons’ perspective. Try and understand how someone else feels and see their hardships in order to gain a better understanding of those around you. For one able to be courageous enough to follow this legacy and do so passionately has opportunity in the palms of their hands to find great success, influence many lives, and make a difference.
To conclude upon the legacy he left to his loyal followers and likeminded believers, his leadership is best remembered by Alan Brinkley where he states; “He reminds many Americans of an age when it was possible to believe that politics could speak to society’s moral yearnings and be harnessed to its highest aspirations” (The Legacy of John F. Kennedy). And also to conclude upon the legacy he left for his fellow leaders, take out of context of these statements; “my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—but ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man” (Inaugural Address). As for the purpose of all effective leaders, we must ask what is right, what needs to be done, and how to go upon doing so effectively for the benefit of an organization as a whole.
- Brinkley, Alan. “The Legacy of John F. Kennedy.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 19 Feb. 2014, www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/08/the-legacy-of-john-f-
- Burns, James. Leadership. Pp. 452-57. New York: Harper & Row, 1978.
- GRIFFIN, RICKY. Fundamentals of Management + Mindtap Management, 1 Term 6 Months Printed Access Card. SOUTH-WESTERN, 2018.
- John F. Kennedy: 'Address of Senator John F. Kennedy Accepting the Democratic Party
- Nomination for the Presidency of the United States - Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles', July 15, 1960.Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
- President John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address (1961) Citation: Inaugural Address, Kennedy Draft, 01/17/1961; Papers of John F. Kennedy: President's Office Files, 01/20/1961- 11/22/1963; John F. Kennedy Library; National Archives and Records Administration.
- President John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Address (1961) Citation: Inaugural Address, Kennedy Draft, 01/17/1961; Papers of John F. Kennedy: President's Office Files, 01/20/1961- 11/22/1963; John F. Kennedy Library; National Archives and Records Administration.kennedy/309499/.