Month: December 2019

“Leadership is not about glorious crowning acts”

Reviewing definitions of Leadership last night, during the last class of 2019’s Leadership & Management programme, we settled on the view of Chris Hadfield – astronaut, former commander of the International Space Station (ISS), and of course Bowie-esque Rockstar!

In his book “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth“, Hadfield describes how he and his team had to deal with an ammonia leak on the ISS, just days before his scheduled return to Earth. The leak was from part of the cooling system – a vital part of the engineering onboard the ISS. And worse – the leak was increasing, draining the Station of its lifeblood.

This meant the crew were going to have to conduct an unscheduled spacewalk to investigate. Hadfield notes that “usually, spacewalks are planned years or, at least, months in advance; even for unplanned walks, procedures are tested in the pool at JSC [Johnson Space Center in Houston] first”!

Hadfield describes the complexity, concerns and technical challenges facing his crew. He also notes his own disappointment at remaining inside during the emergency EVA (NASA had decided two of the other astronauts would conduct the spacewalk). Concurring that it was the right decision, and recognising the immediate challenges ahead, Hadfield described the situation as a test of his fitness to command – with this informed observation:

“Ultimately, leadership is not about glorious crowning acts. It’s about keeping your team focused on a goal and motivated to do their best to achieve it, especially when the stakes are high and the consequences really matter. It is about laying the groundwork for others’ success, and then standing back and letting them shine.”

Leadership: Human Towers

Some of the essentials of leadership can be observed when learning from the brave souls who build free-standing human towers in Eastern Spain.

Dating from the early 18th century communities have come together to build Castells, showcasing bravery, teamwork, trust and yes – leadership. And long before some of these terms were fashionable.

Coming together colles work to secure a human foundation (pinya), pressing in tight to create a concrete-like base, and then to add more and more levels, climbing into the sky. The current record is 10 storeys – with the uppermost layers created by younger and younger members.

The largest tower might include up to 700 or 800 people all told. All working together – in solidarity and with team spirit. When practicing for the biggest festivals – and creating the biggest towers, it is unlikely a complete rehearsal can be attempted. So Castellers will practice in smaller teams – working on their own, prior to events. And this is all voluntary.

So how do they do it? How do they organise, come together, and carefully – and safely – build such structures?

Culture, community, commitment, Practice. And always building trust.

Leadership – and teamwork – in action.

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Image Credit: @_López-Monné_Tarragona_Turisme