by Tom Posey

On October 4th, 1957, at 10:29 p.m. Moscow time, Russia launched a one hundred and eighty-four pound satellite called Sputnik 1 into orbit.

Sputnik 1 has been credited for spurring the development of the U.S. space program. It’s credited with prompting President John F. Kennedy to declare in 1961 that America would put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s.

Sputnik 1 had impact.

While at the time, many Americans claimed to have seen Sputnik with their own eyes, in reality, the satellite could only be seen using highly powerful optical devices. Sputnik 1 was only about twenty-three inches in diameter.

What most people actually saw was a one hundred foot R7 rocket casing, trailing six hundred miles behind the satellite, that Sputnik’s designer Sergei Korolev had craftily outfitted with reflective prisms.

Seeing is believing

It’s often the case that what we observe, as opposed to what is said, has the greater impact on our beliefs and motivations.

Think about the powerful, intentional message that Sputnik 1 was signaling about Russian capabilities as it flashed across the American skyline every ninety-eight minutes.

What signals are you sending?

Signals are all about what we demonstrate, not what we say. As we’ve learned from Sputnik, it’s the intentionality, cadence, and consistency of what’s observed that carries the powerful message.

Are you sending intentional or unintentional signals? What about the observable cadence and consistency of your intended message?

Recently, I observed a CFO on several occasions emphasize her desire of having collaborative discussions in her staff meetings.

Weeks later, as she and I were reviewing her recent accomplishments, she mentioned that she was disappointed in her ability to encourage collaborative problem solving with her staff.

She had placed collaborative problem solving as the last item on her weekly staff meeting agenda.

“I wanted to leave time for collaborative discussions,” she said. “It was important that we have space to discuss any of the agenda items we covered earlier in our meeting.”

However her team interpreted that low on the agenda meant low priority. This was more powerful to them than her repeated statements on the importance of collaborative behavior.

Signal received.  

Just as recently, I attended a meeting with a different client where I watched a business leader provide an inspirational and heartfelt message on the importance of open, honest communications and inclusion.

Like so many other leaders, he could have stopped there. It was a great message with an exceptional delivery.

However, he went quite a bit further by carving out chunks of time on his personal calendar for the following ten months to allow him a visit, each week, with a different work group.

It was interesting for me to hear from those working for him that collectively, they all received the same signal, delivered by his actions, but never overtly discussed. It went something like this:

“He didn’t assume he understood our reality. He was earnest about learning what we were seeing and how we felt. Our reality was really important to him. I feel we have a bond.”

Signal received.


Tom Posey serves as senior managing director of leadership development at Present Values.