The Eleventh Hour

“When you are in any contest, you should work as if there were – to the very last minute – a chance to lose it. This is battle, this is politics, this is anything.”
–Dwight D. Eisenhower





Last week was a great week for the team.

On Tuesday I briefed my team’s strategic plan to the leadership team in mission operations.  We had a frank and open conversation, one where I permitted and even encouraged those with dissenting opinions to be heard.  In the end, we received the endorsement to proceed with our plan as proposed.  In the subsequent days, we finalized our briefing materials for the executives at NASA Headquarters, and are ready to start the long review process to ensure we’ve “dotted all the i’s” and “crossed all the t’s”.  It seems like everything has come together, and that we can take a breather while our package is being reviewed.

An e-mail late on Friday has reminded me that despite every effort to be prepared, events on the outside will arise to upset the equilibrium.

The above refers to a particular issue that has been simmering beneath the surface for a while.  I was aware of it about a month ago and decided it was not a priority due to its limited scope.  We had bigger concerns on our plate.  However, the issue sprang to life in an unexpected way late Friday and turns out to be more far-reaching than I expected.

First, the issue is a distraction for me in the immediate term, and I will want to keep it from being a distraction for the team.  The team deserves to celebrate its accomplishments and not be concerned with events beyond its control.

Second, the issue has the potential of delaying the review schedule while I seek a resolution.  OK, fine – I will deal with a schedule delay if it comes to that.

Third, the issue is a reminder that surprises can and will arise, and many will be beyond the team’s control.  As a proactive leader, it is incumbent on me to anticipate events to prevent surprises, and to react quickly and decisively to unanticipated events in a manner that helps the team.  This event is a mixture of both – the basic event was known to me, the far-reaching nature of it was not.

I’m blessed with a very supportive leadership team.  Friday night I informed them of the issue and the steps I was going to take on Monday to address it.  I also sought their help if they could see a way to provide it.  And that they did.  The leadership got engaged that night and are working with higher-level leaders to help me find a resolution to the issue.  I’ll continue with my proposed approach and am confident that one or the other will lead to a satisfactory resolution.

My team and I are in the eleventh hour of our strategic planning work.  I’m sure that other issues will arise.  I view one of the marks of leadership as being how one handles the eleventh hour, where last-minute issues can arise and will test the character of the leader.  The clock is still ticking, and we’re still moving forward.

The Eleventh Hour