Five Lessons on Leadership from Rocket Scientists!

A year ago or so, I had the opportunity to visit the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota as part of a cross functional team from work. I have always been fascinated by space and wanted to learn as to how all of this was done.

I thought that I would learn a lot about how things are done there. However, I learnt a lot more about leadership! Here are five lessons on leadership that I learnt from the Rocket Scientists.

PSLV C25 Lifting into space

Lesson One:  Face Uncertainty

There are so many things that can go wrong when sending a rocket to space. And small mistakes can be costly and cause a lot of embarrassment. There is a lot of pressure to ensure the success of the mission. They face all of this uncertainty and pressure by creating back-up options for all processes and systems. If one fails, the other takes over!

Do we plan ahead and create adequate back-up people, processes and resources? Are we and our teams ready to face uncertainty?

Lesson Two: Mastery does Matter!

The engineers that we met had gone through a lot of training – both in the class room and on the job to become experts in their areas of focus. Besides having stellar educational records, they also had the passion and enthusiasm for the subject. You could see a spark in their eyes and it definitely did rub off on all of us! It was quite obvious that they had paid the price to get to this level of Mastery. They had spent time, energy and efforts to master their subject.

I was wondering as to how many of us take time to master our area of work! Do we spend time, money and effort to be truly called ‘Masters’ of our work?

Do check out the post that I wrote on Mastery here to read and think more about this!

Lesson Three:  Check It, List It, Do It!

There were checklists and project plans every where! And they had to be rigorously followed. After reading Dr. Atul Gawande’s ‘The Checklist Manifesto‘, I had already bought into the concept of checklists. So, it was an opportunity for me to validate what I learnt on checklists and project plans. Their plans were detailed and had check points during which different teams would coordinate with each other to ensure that they were not building train tracks in the opposite direction.

This lesson is really important for any leader. While we focus on reaching our milestones, we often forget to work with others who may have direct or indirect influence on us reaching our milestones.

For a moment, let us forget about project plans or checklists – do we at least have a prioritized, ‘living’ To-Do list written or typed down some where?

Lesson Four: A Mission Inspires!

The people that we met there were not motivated just by money. They could be, in fact, earning lesser than many in the Information Technology industry in India. All of them sparkled with enthusiasm for their mission and goals. They were proud to be a part of the organization and seemed to know that their role was important in achieving the goals of the organization.

Do we have a higher mission / purpose / goal in life? How about work? How about our teams? Can we inspire our teams to greater levels of contribution and performance through a higher mission / purpose / goal?

Lesson Five: Launch Before Launching

Every move and activity, except the actual launch, is tested and rehearsed repeatedly. While it may seem monotonous, it has been useful for them to identify problems and resolve them in a proactive manner. You can check out pictures of such ‘rehearsals’ where they rehearse the entire launch process here.

Instead of jumping into the fire, isn’t this a great approach? Like Tom Peters says, can we do ‘mini-projects’ or ‘mini-tests’ to validate our assumptions on a course of action? Would it not make us more innovative and successful?

 

Even with all of this in place, some launches do fail – but, there are a lot of success stories including the recent successful launch of PSLV-C25 as part of India’s Mars Mission. I hope we can take a lesson or two (or five?) from these rocket scientists to help us become better leaders!

What are your thoughts on this? Do any other ideas spark in your mind? Feel free to share in the comments!

5 thoughts on “Five Lessons on Leadership from Rocket Scientists!

  1. Very good and useful analysis. There is one more interesting practice followed by ISRO which is a good lesson for all leaders. We know of the practice of `Critically reviewing failures, issues to learn from the mistakes and take Corrective Actions from the issues. Do you know that ISRO has perfected the practice of critically reviewing not only failures but also successful missions? There are many instances of learnings from the critical review of successful missions as well which were used in subsequent projects.

  2. Thank you for sharing this insight, Jagan! Learning from successes is also important for leaders.

    And I can’t thank you enough for giving us an opportunity to visit Sriharikota and learn all of this! Thank you! :-)

  3. sir this is an excellent insight about Leadership. I very much like the way you sense the situation and the way to deliver to others. Keep posting sir. Very inspiring

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