NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center got an inspiring first visit from our new Administrator Charlie Bolden. I am always fascinated by how executives manage their transition into leadership. Clearly, with a resume like Charlie Bolden has, he’s no stranger to transition. We got clues about the man, his mission, and perhaps about his modus operandi.
One thing that stuck in my mind and in my heart was a charge that NASA should inspire the world. He may have said nation, but I heard – the world. I’m sure of it, actually. As leaders, we are constantly honing our leadership competencies so that we can inspire a workforce. The key issue, however, is that leaders need to do that plus create organizations that inspire.
The derivation of the word inspire comes from the Latin verb spirare meaning to breathe. Inspiration literally means to breathe into. How does an organization breathe into the nation or the world? Four other words come to mind that are relevant to this discussion. Transpire, respire, perspire, or expire.
Inspiring organizations would have to transpire or emerge. They have to come outside of themselves and find out what’s going on. Look at the environment and develop an understanding of their external surroundings.
Inspiring organizations would need to respire or breathe. Breath sustains life. It is the process of bringing into an organization, the things that are needed to sustain it. It is also the process of shedding the things that are noxious.
Finally, inspiring organizations would need to perspire or sweat. Some of that sweat will come from hard work and some of it will come from reacting and managing risk. Regardless, you don’t get very far without doing the things that produce sweat.
And if organizations are not able to do these things, there is a strong possibility that organizations may expire. Many doubt that a government institution can meet organizational demise. But, organizational demise shows up in many forms: failure to meet mission, failure to satisfy stakeholders, or inability to meet their constituents’ needs are some possible outcomes.
Just like the Apostle Paul, who appreciated the proverbial thorn in his side, I appreciate the comments that I might get that say “what does inspiration have to do with getting a man to the moon?” or “what does inspiration have to do with being a CIO?”
Well, there’s this thing called the Constitution that talks about things like promoting general welfare, and pursuit of happiness. Who knows, maybe inspiration from an organization like NASA can contribute to that.
For a CIO, who supports the inspiring organization, it may look like providing and promoting enabling technologies that help with collaboration. It may look like reducing costs so that we can better utilize the scarce resources that we have. Finally, it may look like understanding the work that needs to be done and giving advice about how can be technology can be applied to the effort.
In a smaller group of Goddard’s Executive Council, Charlie Bolden gave me some good-spirited poking about why I was not smiling. I must have known in advance what he might say and what it may mean. I shouldn’t have been worried though. I realize now that all I have to do is get out, take deep breaths, and get ready for hard work.
Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center