What do JFK, Southwest Airlines and The Great Escape have in common?


Florian Bay of Toastmasters International explains what JFK, Southwest Airlines and The Great Escape have in common – and why knowing this is important for business owners and managers. Florian also explains how to create a vision that will inspire others to follow you.


History provides countless examples of leadership be it political, economic or military. But no two leaders are alike and some leaders have left a far more distinctive mark on history than others.

Many successful leaders have been able to inspire others through the power of the spoken word. But according to Florian Bay of Toastmasters International, inspiration also requires another ingredient besides communication; vision.

For example, John F Kennedy’s vision can be encapsulated in a single sentence “putting a man on the Moon by the end of this decade and bringing him safely back to Earth”. For CEO of Southwest Airlines Herb Kelleher, the founding father of the entire low-cost airline industry, it was making flying cheaper than driving in Texas. For Roger Bushell, the mastermind behind the events of the Great Escape, it was “let’s get out of this prison camp!”

The same principles these leaders employed can also be applied when leading a team at work, launching a small business, or planning a charity event.

So how do you create and communicate your vision? Florian Bay has this advice:

Start with a definition. Ask yourself “Why did I take on this challenge?” “What is unique about my idea?” “What do I want others to get out of it?” The answers will help you build up an image of your vision in your mind. Your image should be simple to understand yet contain detail. For Southwest Airlines, it all started with a triangle on a napkin mapping three Texan cities, linked with a friendly ‘Southwest spirit’ that would attract customers to come back again and gain.

The details must be believable and provide something unique that others can latch onto and feel inspired by.

Now frame it into a statement that conveys the vision in the broadest possible sense. Once again inspiration and simplicity are keys; no vision can be achieved by a single individual alone, and it’s easier to be inspired by something you understand and can relate to. Core values linked to the overall vision should also be defined.

These values or cornerstones will be elements that can be used again and again to re-emphasise the vision and communicate it to peers and colleagues. Remember the vision you’re working towards is unique. Harness this to inspire others and make them feel part of something greater than themselves; something different; something that stands out.

Implementation is the third and final step of the process. This is where everything becomes more detailed and each aspect of your vision is broken down to its constituent parts. Communication remains essential; the easier it will have been to grasp your vision early on, the easier it will be for others to consistently refer to it in the work they’ll be doing and for issues to be solved collectively.

Issues arising should be dealt with using the end objective as the framework. Being true to its founding values and principles has allowed Southwest Airlines to remain consistently profitable since 1972. Their core value of efficiency means that the company’s airplanes still fly more hours than the competition. Competitors have come and gone, the price of jet fuel has gone up; but the company remains profitable.

Roger Bushell’s gamble of a Great Escape succeeded in allowing dozens of men to escape and stands as a fantastic testament to the power of mankind to thrive in the direst of circumstances - if animated by a vision.

John F Kennedy’s vision of putting a man on the Moon and bringing him safely to Earth was fulfilled after his death. But the élan he had created was irresistible; everyone knew what was at stake and everyone involved had a stake in making something extraordinary happen. So it did happen!

So, ask yourself what is your vision? What’s your dream? What do you want to build? And remember; it can be as big or as small as you want it to be.