“Leadership is not about glorious crowning acts”

Dec 12, 2019 Uncategorised

“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.”