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Leadership Tenets

I have been a facilitator for NASA’s Mid-Level Leader Program (MLLP) for the last three years.  On April 2, the fourth cohort graduated from the program.  David Radzanowski, Chief of Staff at NASA gave the Graduation Address to the graduating class.  I asked Dave if I could share the “leadership tenets” he offered in his speech.  Here they are.  I find them to be incredibly profound and practical.

  1. Always assume positive intent – most people are trying to do what they think is right.  While we may not always agree on methods or outcomes, most people are trying to add value.
  2. Always strive to be uncomfortable – to grow, you need to challenge yourself. Find the stretch assignment and volunteer for it.
  3. Delegate to the point of negligence – you need to work your way out of your job. So, trust your team and challenge them whenever possible.
  4. Failure is an option – be innovative and intuitive.  When mistakes happen, learn from them.
  5. Take care of your team – give them the credit for successes and take the blame for mistakes.  Walk around and talk with them on their turf. Your office is boring.
  6. Take care of yourself – schedule time for yourself and don’t let work interfere. Time with your family and friends is as important if not more than your career.  No one wishes on their death bed that they had attended that meeting they missed.

Sincere thanks to Mr. Radzanowski for allowing me to use his tenets.  I hope you find them as helpful as I do. Dave concluded with a quote from President John Quincy Adams.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more – you are a leader.”
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John Poirier helps client organizations develop and implement meaningful solutions to Human Resources Development challenges.

Learning Faster

Why isn’t your organization learning faster?

Why can’t your organization learn and adapt quickly to what’s happening? You already have a shared vision and a common purpose. You’ve hired knowledgeable people. People who excel at solving problems inside their area of expertise. People who know what they don’t know in their field–and then go out and acquire that missing knowledge.

So why do your teams still get confounded about how to respond to chaotic or ambiguous circumstances? What stops us from moving forward together?

“Learning From”

Your people learn, individually. To adapt to what’s happening, we need to learn together.

What we individually and collectively know is nothing compared to what we can individually and collectively learn through conversation.

Individually, we bring what we already know (our knowledge) and what we are currently solving for (our expertise) to our work. This is what we were hired for. However, in an environment defined by constant change and increasing complexity, our knowledge and expertise are insufficient relative to what’s emerging. Even the “smartest person” on the team or in the company has a limit to their perspective and what they can offer in the midst of solving for what we’ve not seen before. This is where we have to learn our way forward together.

When we come together to solve our problems, we usually orient towards learning from each other. We look to combine our individual knowledge. As in, let me add what you know to what I know. This is what limits us from moving forward effectively. What we come up with will be, at best, a prescriptive solution based on our combined individual expertise. What we learn from each other can still be insufficient to what’s emerging.

To adapt, we need to do much more than combine our knowledge. What we know isn’t going to solve our problems.

Adaptation calls for a multiplicative approach. To invent and innovate, we need to be in conversations that accelerate what we learn WITH each other.

“Learning With”

Learning with each other takes a certain willingness to be vulnerable.

Talking about what we do know reinforces our personal brand as a “smart” expert. But many of us are uncomfortable talking with each other about what we don’t know. Sharing the limits of our competence and knowledge feels as if we’re making ourselves vulnerable: after all, we risk jeopardizing our brand as “expert” if we admit what we don’t know–or worse, if we discover the limits of our knowledge in the presence of our peers.


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Mark Cappellino helps leaders and leadership teams transform their relationships in order to leverage their impact where culture and strategy intersect.