Leading Through the Tears

Here’s a secret…the last thing a female executive who works in a male-dominated field wants to do is cry in public.  So of course, I was mortified when I cried during a speech this week in front of a big crowd at the NASA IT Summit.  I thought I conquered presbyopia with 14-point font, but I didn’t have a plan for my inability to see through my tears.

I almost second guessed writing about this, but in my strategic planning meeting today with the other NASA CIOs, the facilitator played some music – The Baby Elephant Walk.  Oh, the memories we have and the things we try to forget.

I was 7 years old and we had a dance recital.  I was the lead dancer and we danced to the Baby Elephant Walk.  We had the cutest elephant ears that were attached to our heads with headbands.  It only took a few baby elephant hops before they fell on the floor.  I was leading, so mine fell first.  We all started crying, but I kept dancing because everyone had to follow me around the stage.  I remember not being able to see so I decided I better wait and cry later.

My most traumatic episode with tears came at age 16 (when the most traumatic things often happen).  I had to play a solo on my French Horn – a concerto by Mozart.   When I played, I did then what I still do now when I’m nervous … I forget to breathe.  This made my phrasing disastrous.  So, I got upset with myself and started crying.  This was embarrassing, so I just stopped playing and ran off the stage.

The band director told me that I did a good job and need to keep practicing and keep trying.  So, he put me on the program again.  Still forgot to breath.  I started crying again.  But, this time, I played through the tears.   

I end this with a leadership quote from someone who didn’t have any problems remembering to breath – Marian Anderson.

“Leadership should be born out of the understanding of the needs of those who would be affected by it.”

My lesson had little to do with crying and more to do with the emotional state it left me in.  After the crying, I exited the stage shields down and defenseless.  A young man from NASA/Glenn Research Center came up to me.  He was in tears.  He thanked me and then asked me for a hug.  I had it to give and I gave it to him.  That hug made crying worth it.

Linda Cureton, CIO, NASA

9 thoughts on “Leading Through the Tears”

  1. I wonder… when did it become wrong to get nervous? When did it become unprofessional to let emotions have their way with us? Better yet, when will we trust enough in ourselves to be with what is? Trust – the foundation of leadership – that is, of oneself or anyone.

    Thank you for your courageous post, Linda!


  2. Leadership is something that relates to emotion, beyond reason. It relates to the intuition and risk when the events were not foreseen in plans. Leadership means hitting when we need heat, decisive action. This comes on the condition of our natural species. I do not like it when they call us animals, but technically it is. And we must not flee from it. We are thrilled to overcome the difficulties (if cry is because we are alive, winning) and external pain. In fact we avoid crying not to show pain or weakness. But the fact is that anyone who does not cry once in a life that’s because it did not go through a difficulty, and felt no pain. He played an easy game. It may be in its own right not to cry, but the fact is that heroism (read leadership) tends to be accompanied by much pain, either in the flesh is in the soul, or spirit. The leader does all nai is no reason to cry, but in adversity that he should weep with more annoyance. Superman also cried when Lois Lane fell on her car into a crack in the ground after an earthquake. And he was crying that he did turn around the earth, to go back and reclaim the lives of your loved one. That cry has strengths, as voiced all the pain, and only remnants will. In life it is. We must avoid the full force crying, and making sure that there is no reason to cry. But in crying time, we do know this. There is nothing more human. Avoid crying is a disorder of evil (which is received and causes pain, and that continues, the pain is not external). Crying brings purity to the heart. But only the cry true. We’ve all cried and one day perhaps even weep like that innocent child that we went one day. Then wipe the tears and make sure that your crying was not in vain, because it reminds us how human we are and reminds us of all the things to which we are subject. It reminds us of the care they should have. A fall may hurt the bottom, and make you cry. We need to be careful when walking, reminds her crying. Life is not to be crying, but with joy. But if there is still crying, we need to take better care of each other. So, I say finally: do not cry, life is beautiful and there in the future so many moments of happiness that you can experience them now.

  3. Emotions the painting of counciousness the myth of security system mortal dieing or remembering alive.

    But not instead of crying to create is the same.

    Sometimes or less.

    Imperious Time oh! If I were beyond ets what would I see??

    Beyond the world of myths or ufos, what I must see supporting Life???


  4. Ok, so you cried first. I cried later. We cried. We celebrate tears, as they make way for all the other emotions that will also come. Thank you for your leadership and your vision.

  5. As one of two honored recipients of the NASA Excellence in Teaching Award 2010 I had the privilege of attending the remarkable first NASA IT Summit. We were all moved to tears (I was) in the realization that such an extraordinary gathering had been successfully achieved. It was the experience of a lifetime, and we all recognize that you were the driving force at the helm. It is impossible not to be moved by all the forces (and remarkable people) at the Summit and many of us were grateful that you expressed the emotion along with us.

    Thank you for what I hope will be just the beginning of future Summits. What an auspicious beginning and the best demonstration of leadership.

  6. I was at the awards banquet and one that received the OCIO Excellence in Teaching Award. Linda’s tears connected us all when she shared those precious moments with us. Her tears were heart felt by everyone. They represented the completion of her dream and we celebrated with her. Before the day was over, I would be sharing a precious moment filled with tears, too. Thirteen years ago I had been to Washington DC for the “Capitol Connection” weeklong, space conference for educators. It was given by the University of Alabama Huntsville, and is where I met my dear teacher friend, Neme Alperstein who I now share this award. When we had the chance to sight see back then, we went to the Smithsonian and saw workers so meticulously taking thread by thread off of the back of the “Star Spangled Banner” flag to preserve it for the next generation. All these years later on the afternoon of the awards banquet, I had time to visit the Smithsonian again, which now displays this completely preserved, treasured piece of history. I could not hold back my tears of love for my country, love for this flag and all it means, love for the people who spent hundreds of hours to preserve it, and love for when my new class of 2nd graders, will sing the National Anthem every morning in my classroom. My tears were in celebration of the accomplishment of all those who worked on this dream of preserving a national treasure! On this day, Linda, we see your tears as meaning “Mission Accomplished!” We Thank You with grateful hearts!

  7. Linda, Thank you for your thoughts. The quote is excellent and I will hold on to. As for the tears, I fear not those who shed tears, but those who do not, as they are part of being a human. Leadership is all about understanding humans and having the skills and talents to lead them.

  8. When you and your team have worked hard to meet a major goal that required a lot of “blood, sweat, and tears” to pull off and you’re successful, happy tears are “genderless”. You handled yourself with class and trust me, we’ve all been there at one point and time in our careers.

    Bobby Tate, Director, USA IT Security

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