Leadership Lean In: Practical Lessons from a NASA Astronaut and US Navy SEAL
During a recent session as a Bush Institute Stand-To-Veteran Leadership Program Scholar, we were joined by Chris Cassidy, President and CEO of the National Medal of Honor Museum and a retired NASA astronaut and U.S. Navy SEAL.
Chris shared several stories and leadership lessons. Here are my top five leadership lessons from this
the session, boiled down to include a ‘Leadership Lean In’ as a starting place for you to more fully put this
wisdom into action in your own life:
- Own up, ‘fess up.
Leaders develop a culture of ownership and accountability that includes not only learning from mistakes but also learning how to prevent them. This means sharing when you almost make a mistake, even if you ended up correcting it before execution and no one else would ever know. Chris learned this at the beginning of his NASA career from another pilot who openly shared that he almost pressed the wrong lever on a flight before he corrected it in time to prevent the error.
Leadership Lean In: Embrace accountability and model vulnerability so that your team can learn from each other’s mistakes – and near misses.
2. Loosen your grip.
Chris was given this advice by another astronaut as he was heading out on his first space mission and didn’t fully understand what it meant until the hatch opened and he was looking down at the earth going by. He realized that his brain was reacting as if he were on top of a tall skyscraper and he was holding on tightly to protect himself. Only by loosening his group could he settle in and then fully step into the experience.
Leadership Lean In: If you’re in control mode or the idea of “letting go” feels really hard, remember to loosen your grip, even just a little, and move forward from there.
3. Who do you want to go camping with? Be that person.
Chris encouraged us to think about what we would want in a camping buddy (e.g., being positive, getting an extra water, offering some sunscreen) and then be that person for others. This hit me freshly off of walking the Camino with my daughter and thinking about what made her such a great partner. It was her positivity, kindness, and the little things she did along the way.
Leadership Lean In: Choose to be positive, kind, and helpful in small ways to be the kind of teammate your team needs and deserves.
4. Mentor someone into a leader you would like to follow.
When asked about his mentors, Chris talked about the influence of a particular man who helped him understand how to make good decisions. He emphasized his mentor’s dedication to growing Chris into someone that he himself would like to follow. This is a powerful framework for helping someone by paying forward the lessons you have learned and guidance you have received on your own leadership journey.
Leadership Lean In: Invest in mentoring another, with an eye toward helping them become the type of servant leader you yourself would like to follow.
5. Give someone an opportunity every chance you can.
Not understanding the Naval Academy as a 17-year-old, Chris overlooked an important step in the application process. He told how a Navy officer gave him a few minutes of his time to understand the situation and then help correct the deficiency. If this leader had not stepped in to help a young man, Chris would not have had his career as a Navy SEAL, astronaut, and nonprofit leader. It is easy to connect the dots to see what a loss this would have been to him and to the many he has served along the way.
Leadership Lean In: You will find yourself in a position to help someone, often in ways that might not require much effort on your part. Help every chance you can.