50th Anniversary: Leadership Lessons From John F. Kennedy

On the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, we wonder what we can learn from such a great man. His timeless face has gone down in history, symbolizing peace, strength and courage. What can we learn from this visionary to help guide our own personal development?


The Bay of Pigs in 1961 was Kennedy’s most significant and embarrassing public failure in three years as president. Many leaders in his stead would have not been able to recover. On April 17, 1961 he made the fateful decision as Commander-in-Chief to allow for 1,500 “Cuban exiles” to invade the Bay of Pigs. His plan to gain support of disillusioned Cubans and overthrow Castro was unsuccessful. He failed, and there was no way around it. Yet, JFK was a quick learner hungry to improve.


Despite this mistakes, he is remembered for many other traits that have helped guide successful leaders to this day. JFK was hungry to learn, acknowledged his mistakes and pursued what he believed in regardless of the consequences.

Take a moment to read through the quotes below, and think about their meaning.

1. Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.

2. Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future. 


3. My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. 

4. 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.

5. As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.


6. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch – we are going back from whence we came.

7. A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.


8. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. 

9. When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.


10. Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.

11. The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender, or submission.


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