Leadership is like a Waterfall

Watching the STS-125 crew during their (what stretched into) 14-day mission to repair Hubble, I’m struck by their camaraderie. They work hard and play hard, appearing to genuinely enjoy each other’s company — dream team!

Not all Shuttle crews mesh so well. My long-time NASA colleague, who has worked with the Astronaut Office closely through the years, told me the Commander sets the tone for the crew. She’s so right.

I’m reminded of another recent mission: STS-120 led by Commander Pam Melroy.  When the crew visited Headquarters on their post-mission tour to meet with the Washington DC establishment, we aDORed them. They were easy-going, friendly and, best of all, humble. 

For the STS-125 mission, Commander Scott (Scooter) Altman offers a case study in leadership. He gives motivational pep talks to his crew, quoting King Leonidas of Sparta in 480 BC. Spacewalker Mike Massimino predicts that Scott’s words on this mission will live on as well, “A king or commander of a spaceship 2500 years from now will quote the words Scooter told his crew.”

Scott displays calm confidence as Commander of this historic mission, the last and final human mission to the Hubble telescope. He lets his crewmates shine, allowing them to “upstage” him, as we see with Twitternaut @Astro_Mike Massimino and his wildly popular tweets from space. Scott’s leadership style allows his crewmates to bring their own unique personalities to the table – without forcing them to conform.

Did you know Scott is the pilot flying upside down in the movie “Top Gun?” He was a young hot shot Navy F-14 fighter pilot when he flew those scenes. He knows about top-down leadership – literally.

So here’s my takeaway: Leadership is like a waterfall. Debris cascades down just as easily as water, causing great damage on its way down. Take care what’s on top!

Here’s hoping we all learn a little top-down leadership from STS-125 Commander Scooter Altman. Let good things flow!

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