The #1 Thing that Should Keep Leaders Up at Night

leaders up at night

Find the Katherines

 

Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson turns 99 years young this week.

She was born August 26, 1918. Her life has been nothing short of extraordinary. No one could have predicted her success when she born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, the youngest of four children. Her father worked various jobs at the Greenbrier Hotel. Her mother was a teacher. As a young girl, she loved to count and showed a strong interest in math. Her abilities were recognized, and she entered college at fifteen and graduated at eighteen.

Starting her career as a teacher, she later moved to work at the Langley Memorial Laboratory at NASA.

As an African American woman in the early 1950s, she began to break one barrier after another. She overcame considerable sexism and racism, distinguishing herself through her work ethic and genius in the field of analytic geometry.

Her early work led to the discovery that larger planes disrupt air currents and can cause smaller aircraft to crash long afterwards, bringing a change to flight patterns and saving lives. She famously worked on the calculations that helped bring Senator John Glenn back from the first American orbital mission.

Senator Glenn trusted her over the first IBM mainframe computers. He wouldn’t okay the mission until Katherine okayed the math.

From the moon landing to the Space Shuttle program, Katherine was there, making an impact on it all.

All this extraordinary history, and Katherine’s struggles and triumphs, is beautifully told in Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, a book by Margot Lee Shetterly. (If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, put them on your must-read and watch list! It documents a shameful period in history, but one that must be remembered. I found it incredibly inspiring to demonstrate the inherent evil, bias and prejudice we must always fight against.)

 

“The greatest talents often lie buried out of sight.” -Plautus

 

Learn from Katherine’s Extraordinary Career

So, on her 99th birthday, we can learn many lessons from her career success:

  • She learned continuously.
  • She cultivated her unique gifts.
  • She lived on the edge of her comfort zone.
  • She demonstrated courage in the face of racism and sexism.
  • She overcame others’ false, negative perceptions.
  • She trail-blazed thinking and challenged tradition.
  • She broke barriers mathematically, socially, and academically.

No wonder she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. She not only contributed to the USA’s success in space, but her courage, tenacity, and determination changed people, perceptions, and processes all along the way.

Amazing.

 

 

“Katherine knew: once you took the first step, anything was possible.” –Margot Lee Shetterly

 

The Leadership Lesson Behind the Story

But there’s something else that strikes me as I reflect on her lifetime of achievement. It’s something that, as a leader, no one tells you about in school or in classes. It’s something that, as a business leader and CEO, I ponder quite a bit.

Quotes from American Hero John Glenn

What’s Your Live-Acy?

John Glenn once said, “I’m not interested in my legacy. I made up my word: ‘live-acy.’ I’m more interested in living.”

And live he did. John Glenn passed away today at 95 here in Columbus, Ohio. He was a true American hero, a Senator, an astronaut that inspired many throughout the world. He was the first American to orbit the earth in 1962. Years later, in 1998, he became the oldest person in space.

He encouraged all of us to pursue what seems impossible.

Here are some of the quotes from the man who inspired so many:

 

“You can’t relive your life.” –John Glenn

 

“The political graveyards are full of people who don’t respond.” –John Glenn

 

“Fear connotes something that interferes with what you’re doing.” –John Glenn

 

“When the new becomes commonplace, people become accustomed to it. That’s a tribute to our sense of adventure.” –John Glenn

 

“There is still no cure for the common birthday.” –John Glenn

 

“There are times when you devote yourself to a higher cause than personal safety.” –John Glenn

 

“The most important thing we can do is inspire young minds.” –John Glenn

 

“To look out at this kind of creation out here and not believe in God is to me impossible.” –John Glenn

 

“We are more fulfilled when we are involved in something bigger than ourselves.” –John Glenn

 

“We have an infinite amount to learn from nature and from each other.” –John Glenn

 

“As I hurtled through space, one thought kept crossing my mind – every part of this rocket was supplied by the lowest bidder.” –John Glenn

 

“Zero-G and I feel fine.” –John Glenn

 

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Why Leaders Need An Orbital Perspective

The Orbital Perspective

Live on this planet long enough and you will have an experience that changes your life perspective. Whether its watching someone heroically battle a disease or your own near-death experience, these moments linger in our memories and impact our future.

Ron Garan also had a life-altering experience, but not one on planet Earth and not one most of us will personally experience. Col. Ron Garan is an astronaut who has logged 71 million miles in orbit. On the International Space Station, Ron was struck by the fact that 15 nationalities collaborated on creating an engineering feat in space. His perspective shifted as he gazed back at our planet, realizing that we needed to apply the same creativity to working together for the good of our world.

Garan, Ron

I had the opportunity to ask Col. Garan questions about his work, his experience, and his new perspective. His recent book, The Orbital Perspective: Lessons in Seeing the Big Picture from a Journey of 71 Million Miles, gives us the opportunity to glimpse into a new view of our potential.

 

“There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth, only crewmates.” -Ron Garan

 

What is the “Orbital Perspective”? 

The Orbital Perspective is a call to action to shift our perspective from looking at things as they affect us locally, in the short term, to how they affect us globally over the long-term. It’s a shift from looking at the next election campaign or quarterly report to looking at the 20-year plan and beyond. It’s the acknowledgement that each and every one of us is riding through the universe together on this spaceship that we call Earth, that we are all interconnected and family. It’s the understanding that there are no passengers on Spaceship Earth, only crewmates and as crewmates we have a responsibility to mind the ship and take care of our fellow crewmates. It’s the acknowledgment of the sobering contradiction we see when we view our planet from space between the amazing beauty of our Earth and the unfortunate realities of life on our planet for a significant number of its inhabitants. It’s the firm belief that nothing is impossible — that it is within our power to eliminate the suffering and conflict that exist on our planet and that we do not have to accept the status quo. Above all else, the orbital perspective is the acknowledgement that we need each other. The days are long gone where we can effect the type of change that’s required by adhering to the old way of doing things or having a go it alone attitude.

 

“The orbital perspective is the acknowledgement that we need each other.” -Ron Garan

 

Journey into Space

It’s May 31, 2008. You are about to journey into space. You say you were surprised at how calm you felt as you were “strapped to four and a half million pounds of explosives.” How did that feel?STS-124 Launch White Room

I did say that in the book, but then I go on to say, “Sitting there, I felt some apprehension, of course. But I was also reassured by the idea that what we were about to do would make a contribution to humanity and, at this point, that the outcome of the launch was largely out of our hands.” To me, it was a risk-benefit tradeoff. In this case the benefits greatly outweighed the risk. I also wondered what I was getting myself into.

Describe the first time you looked down at Earth. Was it different than you expected?

The thing that really struck me when I looked at the Earth for the first time from space was how thin our atmosphere is. It was very sobering to think that the paper-thin layer of our atmosphere is keeping every living thing on our planet alive. But also the overwhelming emotion was intense gratitude. Gratitude for being given the opportunity to experience that perspective and gratitude for the gift of our indescribably beautiful fragile oasis we call home. The view was basically what I expected; the emotion that is caused was not.

 

“Working together multiplies cost effectiveness while reducing duplication of effort.” -Ron Garan

 

The Importance of the Worm’s Eye View

How to Create an Extraordinary Workplace

The Best Place to Work

How do you create an extraordinary workplace?

How do you turn a group of strangers into a community of friends?

Why should a company pay people to play?

 

Usually, when I read advance copies of book manuscripts, I wait to talk about the book until it is released.  In this case, I couldn’t help but talk about this book for the last few months at conferences. Now that it is finally available, I am excited to introduce Ron Friedman’s new book The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace.

 

BOOK GIVEAWAY

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If you want to build a winning culture and encourage collaboration, this book provides a blueprint.  If you are designing a new office space or updating an old one, this book is a must read.  But what surprised me most about this book is the many insights it provides for leaders at all levels.  If you want to be promoted at work, you will want to read this book and follow its guidelines.  And, as a CEO who is privileged enough to lead an organization that regularly hits the Best Places to Work in IT list, I can tell you this book gave me numerous ideas.

The book’s author, Ron Friedman, PhD, recently answered my questions about his research and work. He is a psychologist and the founder of Ignite80, a management consultancy to help leaders build extraordinary workplaces.

 

Research: You can predict employee satisfaction by the amount of sunlight entering their floor.

 

3 Ways to Improve Space

From a workplace design perspective, what are the top 3 ways to improve space for a positive impact?

BPTW Cover 1The most important principle is design with the end in mind. Think carefully about the tasks your employees are going to be doing and provide a space that empowers them to do their work more effectively. At many companies, people are placed in the identical work environments regardless of their job function, and this is a missed opportunity. It’s why so many people feel that they need to come in early or stay late to get any work done.

A second consideration is encouraging people to personalize their workspace. In The Best Place to Work I talk about organizations like Etsy and DreamWorks that provide their employees with a budget for customizing their workspace when they first join.  It’s a wise strategy.  When we have the freedom to shape our environment, we experience a sense of personal control.  One study found that people are over 30% more effective when they’re encouraged to personalize their workspace.

 

Research: People are over 30% more productive when they personalize their workspace.

 

A third recommendation is to invest in informal social spaces, like outdoor picnic tables or a café-like break room. The idea is to encourage colleagues to get together, even when they’re not talking about work. Workplace friendships are vital to our performance, and lasting friendships aren’t established when we’re in formal meetings.

 

Paid to Play?

One of your chapters says that we should be paid to play. You say that the childlike manner of play can improve our creativity. How can we use play and exercise to improve our workplace?

There’s a business case for giving employees the flexibility they need to exercise. Over the last decade, scientists have uncovered a range of benefits from regular workouts that extend far beyond being healthy or looking good. Exercise, research tells us, can also make us more effective at work.