In his book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life, Commander Chris Hadfield, weaves relevant suggestions for leaders through the story of his life journey as an astronaut. While some of these lessons are pretty obvious, others fly in the face of advice of renowned self-help gurus. And, if you are short on time, here is a summary of the top ten leadership lessons from Chris Hadfield, a recently retired astronaut and renowned Canadian icon:
1. Sweat the Small Stuff
Pay attention to details and anticipate problems. Hadfield suggests that one of the best ways to reduce stress is to over-prepare and have a plan to deal with the worst. Visualize defeat, not just victory. While he doesn’t suggest you perpetually brace for disaster he does believe there’s a lot to be said about striving for excellence by anticipating the worst thing that can happen and then predicting the possibilities to counter them.
2. Learn to Play the Guitar.
Keep up your hobbies and interests despite time constraints.According to Hadfield, pursuing passions beyond your job enhances the quality and degree of success we have as leaders. So, when you find yourself burning the midnight oil or with your nose to the grindstone, pick up that guitar, go for a run or get outside.
3. Check Your Attitude.
Maintain a positive attitude.It’s no secret in leadership circles that attitude is a ‘little thing that makes a big difference’ . Indeed, Hadfield describes a bad attitude as worse than not achieving his goals. After all, ,attitude is the one thing that we can control. So, why not keep it positive?
4. Invest in Other People’s Success
Have a vested interest in your coworkers’ success. We all know that the workplace can be competitive – and leaders (among others) are no exception. Hadfield, however, reminds the reader of the importance of working collaboratively rather than competitively. He suggests positively promoting our colleagues and actively working on supporting their capacity building. This can also be done by being clear about the mission or your team and your goals and then letting go of the reins and watching your team shine.
5. Frame Mistakes As Teachable Moments.
Encourage a culture of education, not just achievement. Hadfield deems mistakes as excellent opportunities to learn and to improve practice. Recently, NASA made a point of capturing the “mistakes, disasters and solutions” of the work of astronauts since the early 1960s. This historical review combined with post-simulation debriefs has helped astronauts learn all sorts of valuable lessons. The ultimate take-away? Great leadership and the admission of mistakes is part of the learning process
6. Watch Your Words
Pinpoint the problem rather than attack the person. Hadfield advocates for extreme sensitivity in terms of the way we speak and act towards people in our workplace. He states that it is a “bad idea to lash out at colleagues” and suggests that “if you need to make a strong criticism…be surgical and avoid making it personal.” So how do you avoid getting snappy with coworkers? “When you see red, count to ten,” he says. Never ridicule a colleague, even with an off hand remark and always remember that the more senior you are, the greater impact comments will have on your staff.
7. Value Everyday Moments
Appreciate the little things that go well at work. Chris Hadfield connects attitude and focus. He puts forward that on earth, as in outer space, “you can choose to focus on the surprises and pleasures, or the frustrations.” That’s why it is important to value everyday moments and avoid obsessing only about those big, critical moments as a leader. Ultimately if you always focus on the “big shiny moments,” you’ll likely feel like a failure most of the time.
8. Stay in ‘Receive Mode’
Be a perpetual student – keep learning. Hadfield advises that even when you reach the top rung of your career ladder (your international space station), it’s not the time to take a break and stop training.
9. Don’t Whine.
Whining is counterproductive – avoid it. Instead, make a point of promoting team spirit. Hadfield describes whining as “the antithesis of expeditionary behavior”. He explains that whining will initially connect and bond people. However, this false sense of “unity” will soon morph into resentment and doesn’t help get the job done. Ultimately, it can be both contagious and destructive.
10. Aim to Be A Zero.
Be quietly competent and helpful. Let’s face it – no one wants to be around a braggart – on Earth or in space. Chris Hadfield suggests that as a leader that there’s “considerable wisdom in practicing humility”. In a nutshell he says, “if you really are a plus one, people will notice – and they’re even more likely to give you credit for it if you’re not trying to rub their noses in your greatness”. Even astronauts need to fix toilets in space!
Hadfield certainly provides more life and leadership lessons than listed her as well as countless stories from his dynamic space career. If you haven’t read it, consider putting it on your ‘BTR’ list. If not, at least check out his TED TALKS.