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American Visionary: John F. Kennedy

John F. Kennedy

Let’s celebrate JFK’s legacy. On his 100th Birthday, what are the key life lessons we can learn from him?

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was born on May 29th, 1917. His shrewdness during the Cuban Missile Crisis, charisma, and general political astuteness have immortalized Kennedy as one of the most influential leaders of the twentieth century.

To fully understand and learn from John F. Kennedy, one must explore all aspects of his life, from the personal to the political to the social.

Injury and illness did not stop John Kennedy to achieve his life goals

John Kennedy was wrought by injury and illness for his entire life. At Choate, his prep school, he set the record for most consecutive days in the hospital. He had Addison’s disease, a terrible back, and a permanently upset stomach. Despite these ailments, he was one of the hardest working politicians in history. According to Lem Billings, a long-time friend of JFK, Kennedy had shaken so many hands that he was unfailingly filled with calluses.

Cecil Stoughton. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston
Cecil Stoughton. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

In 1946, while running his campaign to enter the House of Representatives, he rose at 7 am every day and canvassed until 10 pm, for 16 months. This process was made exceptionally difficult because of his back – often having to sleep with a wooden board on top of his bed at hotels – but he persevered through it all.

There are countless reports from friends and relatives that claim JFK did not ever complain about his health condition. He kept an optimistic outlook, refusing to let complaints enter his mind.

In addition to his work ethic, it didn’t hurt that JFK had wealthy parents. His maternal grandfather, Honey Fitzgerald, was an affluent businessman from Boston. His wealth aided Jack in various situations, including transferring him to the best hospital in Massachusetts during a scarlet fever scare. Joe Kennedy Sr., JFK’s father, also helped in this regard.

During his 1952 Senate campaign, his father wrote a $500,000 cheque to the Boston Standard, a newspaper, to coax the publication into backing his son.

Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston
Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

Whether he’s at a press conference, sailing in Hyannis Port, or getting off a plane, JFK is smiling. The man seems to have a permanent grin. This chipper demeanor may be one of the reasons for his famous charisma, a word that did not enter popular usage until JFK and his bride, Jackie Bouvier, entered the scene.

Down to Earth leader

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of John Kennedy is his lack of pretentiousness and self-absorption.

For a wealthy, intelligent, handsome, Harvard-educated president to be modest and down-to-earth is almost unbelievable. His speechwriter and aide, Ted Sorensen, said that after his job interview, he was shocked at how unpretentious and kind JFK was.

Creator: Army Signal/ CorpsCopyright: Public Domain
Creator: Army Signal/ CorpsCopyright: Public Domain

John Kennedy’s lack of contempt or snobbishness was further displayed in his 1952 campaign. He harangued his mother and got her to hold tea parties for prospective voters at their Cambridge, Mass. home.

Over 70,000 women attended these gatherings, which included working and middle-class women, usually not accustomed to such bourgeoisie activities.

He was the star figure at these tea parties, giving speeches, shaking hands, and receiving questions. It all made a difference. He defeated Henry Cabot Lodge, the Republican incumbent, by a little under 70,000 votes.

John F. Kennedy was not only gregarious and witty, but well-read, hard-working, and fair. The man was as close to a perfect leader as anyone, and his assassination on November 22, 1963, was one of the greatest tragedies of all time.

 

What are the leadership lessons you find important about  John F. Kennedy? Share your thoughts with us.

 

 

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