| Growing up, I rarely had to
look for guidance. On my first job outside of home, for
instance, I learned the value of workmanship. It was the
summer before I started seventh grade, and like many young
men at that age, I got my first taste of the working world
by mowing lawns. The man who hired me for this position
taught me to step back and look at my work, to evaluate
it and consider whether I had done all that I could, and
to ask myself was I ready to show this work to someone.
This lesson has proven invaluable to me my entire life.
I was fortunate growing up to have had many fine mentors.
There was never a shortage of people who were willing
to offer me advice or teach me the most valuable lessons
of life a young person needs to know. What has been
different about my NASA experience is that I have had
to seek out my mentors.
Once In -- Then Where?
When I started at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in
June of 1985, I was assigned to the Business Administration
Directorate as a technical analyst reviewing the Space
Shuttle Program. As fortune stood, I worked for a very
dynamic lead and team and focused on the big picture
of planning and implementation across the Agency's space
flight programs. I was provided access to historical
views of Agency resource planning and tradeoffs in management
approaches. Following the loss of the Challenger,
we conducted a rapid yet full agency assessment associated
with tradeoffs necessary to rebuild the fleet of vehicles,
meet the commitment to the International Space Station
assembly, deal with the loss of reimbursable payloads
and the costs to procure the expendable launch fleet
necessary to fill the intervening void.
The business team was not in the habit of developing or
evaluating its personnel, and as an engineer in a budget
group I realized it was quite possible they would not
understand my strengths or potential. I knew I had to
actively engage others in my development. The team I was
on counseled each other as we approached the task. As
I was new, I asked many questions of them and the various
NASA and non-NASA people I worked with to develop my portion
of the analysis. There was precious little time for anyone
to guide me along, so I took the initiative myself.
precious little time for anyone to guide me along,
so I took the initiative myself.
I remained within the Business Directorate my first
three years in a series of assignments: first as technical
analyst supporting independent assessments within the
JSC Comptrollers office; then as lead for the Centers
Institutional Budgets; and then as the lead resource
manager for the Crew and Thermal Systems Division within
JSCs Engineering Directorate. These assignments exposed
me to the full range of internal resources activity
within the Center and within the Agency. I met the key
managers across the Center and observed the successful
approaches to managing large organizations. I was also
exposed to the management styles and personalities that
were not as successful in defending tasks and managing
resources, and these lessons from what did not work
have proven as valuable to me over time as those that
The assignment within the Crew and Thermal Systems
Division exposed me to the dance of art and science
in advanced technology developments, and it was at this
point that I realized I needed to move out of the Business
Directorate. I had figured out by then that I wanted
to be involved in the planning and implementation of
policy and programs that furthered the human exploration
On Towards the Flight Program
I moved into the Space Station Freedom Project Office
as the Technical Assistant for the Manager for Development.
This office was staffed with experienced Apollo and
Shuttle development managers and technical personnel.
I intentionally sought out guidance and insight from
these men and women on how things had been done in the
past. Throughout this journey I continued into more
technical project management-oriented responsibilities
requiring the associated training to meet the tasks.
My experiences have led me to value the hands on training
offered by the variety of tasks I have been assigned
to and volunteered for, versus the formal trainings
that were available. Throughout my career I have stayed
abreast of on-going training, but only as it was periodically
inserted into my assignments. More often than not, I
would ask the people I worked with for their experiences
and solutions to certain tasks I was working on.
In Freedom, my assignments required me to interact with
all of the office managers and technical leads. I used
these interactions to extract the methodology and basis
for the technical and business decisions that were underway.
I also used the informal time to allow them to reflect
on their stories from when they had been part of the initial
activities with Gemini, Apollo, and Shuttle. They would
reminisce on the good old days,and from this I learned
about the successes and failures of the past and to place
them in context with the present. But this was not a formal
process for learning. No one was assigned to mentor me
or anyone else on the team. I knew that the older team
members were the source of knowledge from the past and
would aide in my ability to contribute to the future.
It was my decision to seek out the stories and lessons
|No one was
assigned to mentor me or anyone else on the team.
One such story is from Gemini. The team had just finished
fabrication of the new urine containment bag and was
just one day away from flight at KSC. They needed to
certify the bag for up to 7 gs. They filled the bag
with water, found the strongest man they could find,
ran a piece of rope from the board they nailed the bag
to, and calculated how many revolutions the man would
need to swing the assembly overhead to reach 7 gs. The
bag passed the test and the unit was bundled up and
flown to Canaveral as the new flight article. The moral
of the story is all tasks are accomplishable -- just
Mir and More
As Freedom became Alpha, I transitioned into the Space
and Life Sciences Directorate, becoming the Payload
Project Manager for the Phase 1 NASA/Mir Research endeavor.
Every aspect of the development and implementation schedule
had been shortened to align with a schedule of political
events. My team was as young as I was with flight experience
mostly in short duration missions on the Shuttle. The
rigors of long duration space flight and the complexities
of merging two distinct space-engineering cultures had
not been fully considered as the plan for joint experiments
and operations was signed.
This job required me to lift up the team each time we
met hurdles and to find common ground for solutions for
implementing our requirements within the Mir platform
and program constraints. I had few senior managers and
little time to seek out assistance. This condition opened
my mentoring pool now to include Russian-trained managers
and technical leads. I sought out their knowledge and
approaches for managing the complexities of long-duration
space flight and the approaches associated with managing
the personnel within these structures.
new strategies were formed to enable the desired
The senior Russian lead, Oleg Lebedev, a veteran of
many Russian space flight endeavors, provided me with
council and friendship as we negotiated the means to
integrate into the Russian platform. As our relationship
developed, he shared his insights into organizing the
American proposals into winning Russian strategies.
No U.S. or Russian policies were violated. More importantly,
new strategies were formed to enable the desired results.
The Phase 1 assignment required me to use every aspect
of the technical, professional and personal skills I
had acquired in managing such a complex and varied suite
of crosscutting tasks -- people, politics, cultures,
technologies, research and space flight. All of my mentoring
experiences came into play, and the team -- both Russian
and American -- came together to achieve the
The Present Plateau
Upon completion of this assignment, I was selected to
manage a new lead Center office for the coordination
of the Human Space Life Sciences Programs at JSC, and
this is where I am now. This position has allowed me
the opportunity to directly influence and develop original
policies and approaches for the human exploration of
space. This assignment is what I recognized and sought
out from the beginning.
From the very beginning, I plotted my career path and
identified the choices to make and the organizations and
individuals who might contribute to my development. I sought
out supervisors, my managers and peers for feedback and
guidance on task-related performance as well as career
evaluation and direction. I struck out on this path on
my own based on my internal voice telling me that it was
not expedient to wait for someone to come up to me and
tell me how I am doing and how I might succeed. The character
of NASA is one where they will catch up to you if you
are not performing, but let you go on if you are. My self-established
pattern of proactive dialogue with managers and peers
is what has afforded me a great deal of cross cutting
experiences, insight, and connections across JSC and the
Agency. Had I depended upon the formal performance review
process or on someone else to recognize my potential value
and seek to develop it, I suspect I would not have arrived
where I am.
|It was not
expedient to wait for someone to come up to me and
tell me how I am doing and how I might succeed.
I now am engaged in the process of sharing and creating
stories with peers in pursuit of the goals of this Agency.
I find that these exchanges are a form of collaborative
mentoring, and I have also found that by drawing people
into sharing their approaches and their stories, I have
engaged them in collaborating on the insights required
to solve problems. I am very pleased to find out that
as I continue my quest for learning, this time through
sharing stories, I am also helping my peers by practicing
a form of mentoring.
- Career growth can occur by making a few smart career
choices continuously, but is primarily achieved through
- People develop primarily on the job, by doing, by
working with and for experienced people, and by seeking
- The best preparation for leadership is not by staying
within one function, but by experiencing a variety