Our episode covering the Engineering Leadership Constant of Mission with Charlie Blackwell-Thompson is now available.  Charlie is the first female launch director at NASA and is leading the launch for Artemis, the mission to get us back to the moon.  While each of our contributing engineers chooses the constant they want to focus on Charlie’s choice of Mission seemed inevitable.  From the moment she first stepped into the launch control room as a brand new engineer out of Clemson University the commitment to the mission has been a huge part of Charlie’s success.

As a long time NASA enthusiast and someone who as a kid would often answer the question of what do you want to be when you grow up with, “astronaut” talking with Charlie was an exciting opportunity for me personally.  She makes the importance and responsibility that leaders have to crystalize the mission for everyone in their organization so clear and tangible by highlighting how critical such clarity is if teams are to achieve goals and objectives that many might consider impossible.

I reflected on my discussions with Charlie very recently as we had our first management get together as a leadership team in over a year and half coming out of the pandemic.  Heading into the event I was most concerned with creating an environment where our newly formed leadership team could feel comfortable engaging each other on personal face to face level, a level of connection that has been sorely missed during the COVID crisis.

To level set everyone headed into the meeting I worked with our communications team to craft a framework that defined our mission for us across the US business between now and 2025.  The impact was immediately apparent from the first discussions among the new leadership group, many who had never even met in person before the event.  What could have been a depressing look back on all the pressures and frustrations of the pandemic was instead discussions immediately forward focused on the future.  Instead of being consumed with the many daily challenges of running the business each day that are an inevitable part of any operation the team was excitedly talking about where we go from here and how darn cool it would be if we can pull it off.

Having a mission declared and featured front and center before we gathered together provided a level of excitement and room for forward optimism that is sorely needed after such a brutal year and half of pandemic exhaustion.  Providing a foundation that gives the team the freedom to explore how to help each other get there and to think through and debate about the how, what and who it will take to make the mission a success is a necessary ingredient in any leadership situation, but is more important than ever after the ground shaking impact so many have experienced over the past year and half.

While many of us probably cannot appreciate the missions of other company’s what I love about discussing this constant of leadership with Charlie is that her mission is something we can all get excited about.  Charlie is an amazing leader that I know is inspiring so many young women to consider engineering and is in the business of making the impossible seem routine.  We all wish her and the entire NASA team good luck and god speed on getting us back to the Moon and beyond!

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