6 Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Jackie and John F. Kennedy

A book containing interviews with the former First Lady offers some surprisingly relevant lessons for entrepreneurs.
Contributing Writer, SmallBizTrends.com
April 24, 2012

I have been fascinated by President John F. Kennedy ever since I saw him at a gas station as a child during the 1960 presidential campaign, and he gave me a little wave. So I had to carve out some time to read the recently released book, Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy. The series of interviews with the former First Lady by Arthur Schlesinger was conducted in 1964, just months after the President’s assassination. It offers her reflections on Kennedy’s presidency, as well as some unexpected lessons for entrepreneurs. Here’s what I took away.

Make time to disconnect. Of course, Kennedy lived in a time before e-mail and cell phones, but Jackie recalls that if a phone was ringing, he couldn’t resist answering it. He loved to take off sailing with his family because there were no phones on a boat and he could forget the cares of the presidency for a while.

The lesson here? Turn off the cell phone and log off your laptop from time to time. Take some time off (even if just for a weekend) if you can—you’ll come back to business re-focused and re-energized.

Don’t burn your bridges. Jackie admitted to holding grudges when someone offended the president, but he always urged her to let it go. “In politics, there are no friends or enemies, only colleagues,” Jackie recalls Kennedy telling her, explaining how even his worst enemy might someday become an ally who could help him reach a goal. 

Today's world is so connected that Kennedy's advice is especially relevant. Don’t alienate people you may want to work with in the future.

Make time for your health. Kennedy suffered from crippling back problems for much of his life, but Jackie says when he took office he was in great shape because once the rigors of campaigning ended, he golfed, swam and exercised daily. After six weeks in office, however, he was nearly incapacitated again from sitting at a desk for hours on end. When a doctor ordered regular exercise, Kennedy made time for fitness every evening.

The needs of today's leaders and employees are no different. Find a time you can commit to working out, and encourage your employees to get up and stretch at least once an hour.

Mix it up. When in town, Kennedy always had lunch in the White House’s private quarters with his family. He also took a daily 45-minute nap. He typically worked 11-hour days, but he spent the evenings relaxing with family and friends. Jackie made a point to surround him with people who wouldn’t talk politics or remind him of the problems he dealt with all day. For an entrepreneur, it’s hard to avoid thinking about your business constantly, but sometimes the best insights come when you shift gears and get your mind focused on other things for a bit.

Never stop learning. Although she was a voracious reader herself, Jackie marvels at how her husband devoured books. Each week, he’d rip out pages from the newspaper’s book reviews and give her lists of books to order from the bookstore. How did he manage to read despite his pressing schedule? Jackie says, “He read all the times you don’t think you have time to read,” including while eating, in the tub, tying his tie or getting dressed. With audiobooks and podcasts today, even busy entrepreneurs can make time to stay well read.

Less talk, more action. Jackie recalls Kennedy’s disappointment in his Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, who despite being brilliant, took forever to get anything accomplished. (She jokes that it took him 11 weeks to compose a birthday letter for Khrushchev.) Indecisiveness hindered Rusk and the State Department, and frustrated Kennedy. The lesson here: The best intentions don’t matter if you don’t follow through, so know when it’s time to quit thinking and start doing.

Photo credit: Public domain