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CIn October 1962 we came very close to ending civilization. The events of that month would become known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. The command decisions displayed by President John F. Kennedy would save the day and become the finest moment of his presidency.

Command–be in charge of, be in command of, be the leader of; head, lead, control, direct, manage, supervise, oversee; informal head up.

I remember watching The Missiles of October in high school and being enthralled with the brinksmanship. William Devane, as Kennedy, and Martin Sheen as his brother Bobby forever set the bar for me on actors playing Kennedy.

Kennedy, the youngest man ever elected president 1, was inexperienced and the military did not have a great deal of confidence in their Commander-in-Chief. Couple that with his elitist upbringing and style and you have a recipe for distrust and resistance between Kennedy and the joint chiefs of the military.

Nevertheless, Kennedy took command. When it was discovered that the Soviet Union was delivering inter-continental nuclear missiles to Cuban, the military reaction was “bomb them back to the stone-ages!” Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed or I might not be blogging and you might not be reading!

Kennedy exercised some excellent leadership traits:

  1. take a step back and get all the facts so that,
  2. you can work with all the facts, which enables you to
  3. make the best decision(s) possible.

Kennedy and his brother Bobby exercised every back-channel they knew, gathered as much intel as they could and listened to all the options. Some have said that, in his meetings, be they Cabinet meetings or otherwise, Kennedy was not gathering information in order to make a decision, for he had already made up his mind. He was merely getting the opinions of others. I’m not sure that’s the case in the meetings associated with the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In the interest of brevity, Kennedy negotiated a withdraw of the missiles and brought us back from the brink of annihilation. He used every means available to him, including back-channel meetings and direct communication with the Soviet Premier. Some say he gave up too much (our missiles in Turkey) but that’s not the focus of this discussion. This discussion is about Kennedy courageously taking hold of the command and saving the globe or at least averting a war.

Leadership Lessons

  1. Make sure you have all the facts before making a decision.
  2. Use whatever means you have to when making critical decisions to ensure that you have the best intel on which to base a decision.
  3. Listen to everyone’s opinion, but as the leader, the decision is yours and yours alone.
  4. Be careful of radical opinions (“bomb them back to the stone-ages!”) as a more reasoned approach is usually best.
  5. If you save the world, go on TV and let everyone know!


1 Theodore Roosevelt, at 42, was the youngest man to assume the office of president; Kennedy at 43 was the youngest elected to the office.