Full Contact Project Management
The Holiday Gift We Really Need
“The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” ―
— Jack London
There’s an old story that begins, “Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Billy Graham are all having dinner together…”
Okay…I confess: Such a story doesn’t exist; I just made it up. But those three men really exemplify the best in leadership examples, and we should take a close look at them. And, as Jack London has said so well, these three men have all used their available time to live, and to not just exist.
Nov. 19 is the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, which begins:
“Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…”
In just 272 simple, yet eloquent, words, Lincoln paid tribute to the more than 30,000 soldiers killed or wounded there, at Gettysburg, a mere five months earlier. And just five weeks prior to his address, Lincoln proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving and Praise for the last Thursday of November, celebrating the greatness of our country.
It takes some strong leadership to hold together a country bent on breaking itself apart; to see the moral travesty of slavery and attempt to right it; to witness the huge loss of life and treasure caused by a great Civil War; and to proclaim thanksgiving in the midst of it. Yet, he pressed on, until stopped by an assassin.
Where is our next Lincoln?
Almost simultaneously with this 150th anniversary, we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Pres. John Fitzgerald Kennedy. For me, it was as significant and profound a day as 9-11.
I was a high school senior. We had just left our morning classes to go to lunch, when we heard that Pres. Kennedy had been shot. Someone out in the parking lot had his car door open with the radio playing, and we gathered around, waiting for word. Then came the announcement, “Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States, John F. Kennedy, is dead.” Instantly, the crowd dispersed. Sporting events were canceled that weekend. The country was in mourning.
JFK shepherded us through some trying times, like the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962. People forget that the world stood on the precipice of nuclear war, yet Kennedy was successful in getting Soviet missiles out of Cuba. I guess I should have expected no less. At his inauguration in 1961, he uttered this famous sentence, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
And just a few weeks prior to the missile crisis, JFK delivered his stirring speech in Texas, where he proclaimed, “We choose to go to the moon!” This was a stunning goal. We forget, now, but back then, the United States was not the leader in space exploration, but his goal was that we would get there first.
Like Lincoln, he committed treasure to this quest, just as he pledged American might to stand up against Soviet aggression. He did the right thing until he, too, was assassinated.
Is another JFK on the way?
Billy Graham was not a president of the United States, but a great leader, nonetheless. His simple title was that of an evangelist. He spoke at “crusades,” live, in front of an estimated 210 million people over time. He has active for 60 years, and is being honored this year with more than a few TV programs.
According to Mr. Graham, at his very first crusade, he had four sermons that he knew, and he gave all four of them in about 10 minutes. To go from that point to speaking before stadiums full of people, and doing it well, is incredible.
But here is the reason I include him as an excellent example of leadership. During this period of time, he has never (to my knowledge) been singled out by anyone else as some kind of a hypocritical religious leader. Nothing immoral. No complaints. Not even after 60 years.
As a matter of fact, early on, he and his team developed guidelines to prevent this. They nicknamed these guidelines as the “Modesto Manifesto,” because it was conceived in a small motel room in the town of Modesto, many decades ago. The members of his team all agreed that they would do everything possible to avoid even the appearance of impropriety: To that extent, Graham would never even be alone in an elevator with a woman, or have dinner with one, other than his wife.
Similarly, that’s how all of the finances of the ministry were handled – conservatively and publicly. No funny business; no outrageous spending. Will new Billy Grahams come forward? We need some.
Maybe you’ve got a tiny, little company. So, like Billy Graham, work on your craft and grow your four little sermons to something much larger, whereby you are serving more people, better. You’re not launching a rocket to the moon, but you could sure as heck engineer some better systems inside your company to help you deliver your projects on time, couldn’t you?
And even though you are not going toe-to-toe with the old Soviet Union, you might be able to refine your customer service to the point at which your goal is that you only under-promise and then over-deliver. That would make you a star in your industry, wouldn’t it?
It’s about time, isn’t it, for both our country and our businesses to have some noble leadership? President Lincoln closed his Address like this:
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
This holiday season, remember the big picture. Live by your principles, even when it’s hard. People will remember and reward you if you do. Be solid. Don’t just exist. Live. Be noble.
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