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(Pictures courtesy of Life magazine and the London Evening Free Press.)

Yes, here at Globocorp we are not afraid to channel our inner JFK. It therefore seems appropriate to use the 50th anniversary of the moon landings to think about the roles we play in business. Although the moon landings were of course an ultimate team effort, the individuals involved each played a different role. If your team were to go to the moon, which archetype would you be?

Neil Armstrong

The reclusive hero. You work hard and achieve a lot. You are the most successful and an icon for others. Through skill and effort, you achieve the pinnacle. You are lauded. But success comes at a price. Your modesty and sense of teamwork means you want to deflect the hero-worship.

In business, this is a perennial challenge: how do you balance individual vs team achievement? Our brains are wired to laud a hero. So being the figurehead of a team can sometimes be tricky. But Eoin Morgan shows us the way.

Buzz Aldrin

Maybe you are not the first man. But you are happy to take the credit for a team effort. We all know people who are happier in the limelight than others. This is not about deception: you are totally honest about your role. But, through your behaviour, the credit and the limelight end up in your orbit, and you become the face of the team’s achievements.

We’ve all seen managers and teammates like this. On paper they have done nothing untoward, but yet they end up with the lion’s share of the limelight. If you get a buzz from being in the spotlight, great, but be sure to give others their just reward.

Michael Collins

Are you the unsung hero? Do others get the glory and the worship? Were you instrumental in helping the team build the foundations for success but, for some reason, not there at the final triumph? If so, then you are the Michael Collins of the team: the third member of the Apollo mission who never did land on the moon.

While the others are the focus of attention, you work quietly in the background, ensuring the foundations of team success. Today your work helps others get the glory, but your time will come when, in later life, you are made Director of the National Air and Space Museum, and then the Smithsonian.

John F Kennedy

Sometimes the leader isn’t really part of the team. You are the inspiration, the enabler, the cheerleader. Others are doing the work. You set the goals and provide the resources. Your big picture thinking inspires others to achieve and do more than they thought they could. This is an important point about team leadership: the leader’s job is to lead, not do. In my experience too many leaders think they can also ‘do’; and interfere with the work of the team. No: if you are the leader, let the team do their work.

And in some cases, you don’t even get to be there at the end.

Gene Kranz

Ah, the technical genius. The one who sets the team standards and the doctrine. Failure is not an option. You make it happen when things go right (Apollo 11). You make it happen when things go wrong (Apollo 1). Indeed, his words after that disaster are worth quoting in full as a mantra for all successful teams.

“From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: ‘Tough’ and ‘Competent’. Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do. We will never again compromise our responsibilities. Competent means we will never take anything for granted. We will never be found short in our knowledge and in our skills. Mission Control will be perfect. When you leave this meeting today you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write ‘Tough and Competent’ on your blackboards … These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control.”

What version of these words will you use to hold your team accountable to the highest standards?

JoAnn Morgan

The only woman in the control room 50 years ago. As a trailblazer, you put up with a lot. You are a core member of the team but I bet the others don’t appreciate your input or guidance. Maybe even condescend you. You – and others like you – are hidden figures.

If you find yourself in this position in your team then your challenge is to make your mark and make it well. The JoAnns of this world are often at the beginning of their careers and get to play a supporting role at first. Later you will get to be Head of Communications for Kennedy Space Center. Patience: your time will come.

The Janitor

No blog about NASA, JFK, and the moon can pass without a reference to the hackneyed story of the janitor who sees his job as not to wipe the floor but to help put a man on the moon. This story may be apocryphal, but it does remind us of the power of purpose and the role a leader can have at motivating all team members in the organization.

If are working in a team with a great sense of vision and passion that motivates you to do that little bit extra, if you can see the direct link between your job and the ultimate goal, if you take pride in the small things: then you are that the lucky janitor who is inspired by a JFK-esque leader.

In any team, people come together to play different roles. Some are visionaries, some are leaders, some focus on standards, others quietly get the job done. Each has their role to play, and each has strengths and weaknesses. A great team acknowledges these differences and lets each person play to their strengths.

In your team, which role do you play?

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