I thought of this quote when I read that today is the 45th anniversary of the death of astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Edward White. They perished on January 27, 1967 when a fire engulfed their Apollo 1 command module during a simulation test on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral. It was one of the worst tragedies in the history of spaceflight and as a result of the investigation into the accident, numerous changes were made to the module design and the materials used which led to safer, more reliable spacecraft.
In remembering the fate of Apollo 1, I am reminded of the tremendous courage it takes to be a leader, and not just in the field of space exploration. All leaders face difficult situations every day that challenge their fortitude. While most of these are not life threatening, they still require a high level of mental and emotional strength to overcome. It is not easy being the one out in front leading others through change, when opposition is strong, or during times of crisis.
It is easy to see why our astronauts are considered heroes, they certainly deserve our admiration. But let’s not forget to recognize those every day heroes at work who embody that same courage. These leaders feel the same fear and anxiety as others, but they distinguish themselves by their response to it. They:
- Stand behind their values and beliefs and are not afraid to make decisions based on them
- Take action where others hesitate
- Take risks and accept the consequences
- Say what needs to be said, even if it is uncomfortable to do so
- Share their opinion, especially when it is a solo voice of dissention
- Maintain a confident and calm demeanor during a crisis
- Accept responsibility
- Do what is right, not what is popular or easy
- Aren’t afraid to be authentic
- Go first
In all my years of coaching and developing leaders, I found that people consistently underestimated the amount if courage it takes to be an exceptional leader. It seems easy from the outside looking in, but then, the best leaders make it look easy. Most people focus on the perks and the rewards of the position, but exceptional leaders know the true courage and sacrifice it takes to do the job well.
So today, as we remember three men who had the courage to pay the ultimate price to be leaders in space exploration, let us also give thanks to those unsung heroes who lead us every day. They quietly demonstrate the courage of their convictions and character in a hundred different ways, often without formal recognition, but they’ve earned the respect and affection of their teams as a result of it.
How do your leaders demonstrate their courage?