Trust. Such a simple word, yet extremely powerful in meaning, impact, and importance to all of us.
This evening I began relaxing after my team and I achieved a very important milestone in our strategy development task. We hosted a very successful two-day event with representatives from companies involved in “the space business” to share information and ideas. When I reflected on all that we accomplished to make the last two days happen, one word came to mind:
I also reflected on trust when following today’s rendezvous operations between Atlantis and the Hubble Space Telescope. For example, the crew onboard Atlantis places its trust in the calculations performed on the ground by the Flight Dynamics Officers to get the shuttle close enough to allow the crew to fly the rest of the rendezvous manually. The trust is not blind: it is honed through repeated success in rendezvous operations in previous missions, and it is built through training and simulations. The trust is mutual in that the flight controllers know that the crew will execute the plan successfully.
When I return to the events of the last two days with my team, we are building trust as well. My organization’s leadership places trust in me that we will deliver. I place trust in individual team members to deliver on particular parts. Likewise, they place trust in me that I will navigate them to a successful outcome. Through success comes confidence, which leads to trust that we will achieved continued success through similar hard work.
Now, to the part that shows the greatest change in me: I place my trust in my organization’s leaders that they are setting a vision that will carry us to the future. Why did I say “greatest change in me?” For that, I need to go back a few years.
At that time, I was facing a fundamental leadership struggle. I was seeking a way to be relevant as a leader in a role that does not lead to distinction in an every day sense. Additionally, I was seeking to fuel my need to grow and learn in an organization that was rapidly converging on a role of repetition. After the Columbia accident in 2003 and the subsequent announcement of a new vision for space exploration, I sensed that the game had changed. I believed deeply that my organization would need to adapt to new realities and new ways of doing business to remain relevant and viable in the future. Yet I saw the opposite: I observed entrenchment, embracing the status quo and defending the turf. In a subsequent conversation with my then-leaders, I told them my views and vision for the future of the larger organization, and that I did not trust them to deliver on it.
Around this time I chose a new path of growth and development as a leader, about which I’ve written elsewhere (see The Journey). While I was gone, new leadership began to emerge within my larger organization “back home” (I was in Washington, DC at the time). I approached the new leader and began a series of leadership conversations with him. I used all that I was learning about leadership at the time, and articulated the larger vision I had for our organization. In subsequent updates, I began seeing many of the elements about which he and I spoke embraced in the organization’s vision. Foremost of these is this: we will continue to excel in human mission operations while modernizing our capabilities, and will do so for a reduced fraction of the cost of our historic norms. I viewed the latter part as the critical breakthrough: every dollar we save in operations cost becomes a dollar we can reinvest in our future or return to the American taxpayer.
When I returned home from Washington, DC, the ball was already rolling. The organization was and still is being restructured, leadership is being aligned, realigned or replaced, and I’ve been given a key role in making the vision a reality. I’ve been working hard for the last two years towards that end, and have achieved measurable results. Success breeds confidence. More is to come. This leads me to the last two days of events being a part of all that, and the realization that the trust I didn’t give previously is now given, freely.
The circle of trust is now complete.