The Right Stuff was one of my favorite films of the 80’s. As the son of a Navy man, I have been forever fascinated by lives of military pilots, especially those chosen to endure the trainings for manned spaceflight. The rigors of qualifying to be an astronaut are literally “out of this world.” Those who survive NASA’s critique and the nature of space travel itself are a very exclusive class of men and women. First-class organizational leaders worth following fly within the same orbit of excellence, too.
The Right Stuff of Leadership
Everyone who aspires to influence well – to mobilize others toward compelling vision, values, and strategic goals — needs the competence, connectivity and quality awareness to fly high in both circles of life and leadership. The qualities of The Right Stuff kind of leader are very much in line with the qualities recruited by NASA today:
- Intelligence: Astronauts and leaders alike need above-average intelligence. Book smarts are important and formal training has its place, but it is never enough. Likewise, today’s high-impact leaders need to be smart AND nimble in their thinking to handle unexpected problems as they arise. Leaders also need intellectual creativity to dream up new avenues of potential. Curiosity is the key intelligence factor in connecting well and communicating in high order with those sharing similar organizational mission.
- Adaptability: Like astronauts, leaders have many responsibilities while on their mission. They need flexibility to move from one task to another and often work in teams consisting of people from other countries and cultures. They must be willing to change routines with agility to accommodate new procedures and initiatives.
- Physical Condition: The rigors of space travel are almost as intense as the demands of space training. To ensure astronauts have the capacity to endure the pressures of space, they are required to pass examinations meeting numerous survival standards. Though leading a company on a day-to-day basis is not generally as physically stressful as a space mission, running a business and leading teams comes with its own relative stress, which can, at times, be protracted and extreme. Leaders who keep themselves physically healthy, by balancing diet, exercise and lifestyle choices, put themselves in a position of strength to endure the long journey.
- Mental Endurance: Astronauts who make it through the physical demands of space travel must also wrestle with isolation, fear, and separation from loved ones. Imagine living in close quarters with virtual strangers for three to six months at a time. Some of us live this reality in our organizational workspaces, though, too. Leaders and space travelers must cope with seasons of long hours, heavy travel loads, and intense times of mental stress while learning, pioneering, and developing.
- Education: The IQ index for those traveling space is quite impressive. To graduate from astronaut candidate school, prospects must pass International Space Station Systems Training, extravehicular training, robotics skills training, Russian language training, and a universe of other content-specific skills required for success on the space mission. Similarly, organizational leaders must possess an extremely high level of competence within specific areas of knowledge and skill to be considered credible for their mission of earthly influence.
“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” – Peter F. Drucker
The fact that The Right Stuff lost the Oscar for best picture to Terms of Endearment in 1983 still crushes me. Nonetheless, this epic film is rightfully appreciated by those, like me, who admire the spirit of human potential and the GiANT steps of opportunity for those willing to become leaders worth following.
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Image credit: NASA