All of you reading this have a capability to demonstrate leadership and to be recognized for it in a way that far, far exceeds any perceived requirements in age, experience, position, or mystical “they” who decide who’s in and who’s out as far as being a “leader.” NASA is actively seeking leaders who can lead this Agency during the Constellation era, as the last of the Apollo veterans retire and the Shuttle veterans start to depart as well. I’ll share with you how I define and display leadership and what I am looking for in one who displays “leadership.” In the end, I want to convince you that being a leader is both learnable and recognizable.
First, let me build upon a comment I heard from one person that “…leadership is an action and not a position.” Good start. Indeed, part of leadership is action – more specifically, taking action and galvanizing others to action. Yet action without reason is activity without productivity. Something has to result from that action, and that essential item is that the action must be intrinsically linked to a compelling, measurable result. The result has to matter, is evident and obvious to everyone, and has impact. The accumulation of such results taken in a larger context lead to outcomes that can change society.
So, in thinking about the leaders around you, who are the ones that take action and galvanize you to action? Can the leaders around you, or you for that matter, articulate the measurable results you are trying to achieve? Can you say, “this tool will play a key role in assembly of the ISS” or “my work here is going to save the American taxpayer roughly $100 million a year” or some other example like that? Can you, or the leaders around you, converse about the larger outcomes you are trying to achieve? “I am contributing to the knowledge of humankind” or “I am establishing the first footholds in the colonization beyond Earth.”
There is one more ingredient in my definition of leadership. Put very simply, it is that thing, that motivation that gets one out of bed each day to do the things we do at NASA. It is the alignment of an individual’s personal values with what we’re trying to accomplish as an Agency. A true leader knows her personal alignment and engages others in conversations about their alignments with the purpose of the organization, group, or team. It is a willingness to share personal values and how those align with NASA’s mission. An associate administrator told me that, “people self-select into NASA because they believe in the mission.”
So, do you? Do your leaders? Do you even know?
Another person said that, “…we need less thinking that leadership requires a position and more thinking [that] PEOPLE are our greatest asset.” You BET! It is people who have values that align with a larger purpose, who initiate and galvanize others to action, who generate the compelling results that lead to outcomes that give meaning to why we’re here. This has nothing to do with age, experience, position, generation differences, or any of that. It is simple, you can learn it and do it, and others will recognize you for it by calling you “leader.”
In closing, I’d like to share an experience I had with a co-founder of a non-profit agency in Washington, DC, one that gives meaning to what I described above. She said that the mission of her non-profit agency is “to end the harmful institution of children worldwide.” Wow, talk about a mission! I could tell from her words that she believed deeply in that mission, and that her values were strongly aligned with that statement. Yet, I asked her a pointed question: “on day 1, did you have a clue as to HOW you were going to do that?” Her answer: “No”. Yet that didn’t matter; she didn’t let that paralyze her into inaction. She began a program of working with international governments to “rescue” orphans from various orphanages and get them adopted in the US. She had to adapt to ever changing rules, sometimes starting all over again. Despite battling through countless changes in rules, numerous bureaucrats and never-ending red tape, she slowly starting making progress, getting tens, then scores, then hundreds of children placed into caring families in the US each year. She has the alignment, the action, and the results to show for it. She is a true leader in my book.
So, again I ask you… Do the leaders around you exhibit alignment, action, and results? Can you? If you can, others will notice by calling you “leader.”
(This entry is dedicated to Cindy Zook and John Riordan, whose help set me on my current path to leadership. Thank you both!)