(This is one of the little moments that I hope the future will remember us for.)
“Hidden” leadership: Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield
Col. Hadfield’s musical collaboration with Ed Robertson (of the Barenaked Ladies) and the Wexford “Gleeks” premiered today, marking the first time such an event has happened. What’s so special about it? Well, Colonel Hadfield is at least 420.5 kilometres above us, orbiting at a velocity of about 7.7 kilometres per second in the International Space Station. Music is not often made that far from Earth!
I wanted to take the occasion to profile Colonel Hadfield in the context of global leadership.
You might think that this is an odd association to make. Surely, he’s an impressive person - he is in orbit, after all. But he’s not leading a global organization and he isn’t making world-changing influential decisions. Is this leadership?
First, full disclosure: I’m a sucker for space. Humanity literally reaching for the stars inspires me more than anything. So, there’s that. But I’d also like to highlight three things that the soon-to-be Commander has done in his current position that make him out to be an exemplary role model of global leadership.
1. One of the most intrusive — and yet, unnoticed — factors of globalization is the sudden accessibility of media. The social tools of the internet have granted us the ability to communicate with each other more easily than ever. This is an opportunity the Colonel hasn’t missed: with 330,000 Twitter followers, he posts updates about four times a day — frequently including beautiful, high-quality photos taken from his perspective on the ISS. Many of these photos are of specific places, all around the globe. Suddenly, Col. Hadfield’s daytime hobby of photography is connecting people worldwide to the Earth’s landscapes, weather, and cities. We are proud when something of “ours” is posted - and we are in admiration when the place is someone else’s. This simple little action is connecting people everywhere. Moreover, it sometimes has a direct purpose: his photo of Syria on January 2nd, 2013, caught press attention, simply from his observation of how peaceful it looked from up above.
Col. Hadfield’s photo of Syria on January 2nd, 2013, caught press attention, simply from his observation of how peaceful it looked from up above.
2. Colonel Hadfield is incredibly humble. This is one character trait that is obvious when watching the video of “I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing?)”, but it shows in his interviews and through his social media, too. He has called the opportunity to live in the ISS an “incredible privilege”, and that concept resonates through every message he sends back to Earth. Finally, he’s constantly engaging with us on our level; consider his joy at the NHL’s lockout ending (because he could cheer for the Leafs) or his recent interview with William Shatner. In many ways, he is every bit as geeky and dorky as we can be, and his humility enables him to be relentlessly relatable. This inspires, I think, a connection to anyone who wants to feel connected.
“But the key to a good crew like this … is to constantly check their objectives and necessities slightly ahead of my own. To do something nice for every other person on board at least once a day — and keep those things in mind, and recognize when you’re getting a little tired and a little frayed.”
3. This third point ties (1) and (2) together. Col. Hadfield seems to have an innate ability to understand people. He is attuned to his team and puts their needs above his own. Before launching on December 19th, he packed “many small things” in care packages so that he would have gifts to give his crewmates on bad days. He did an “Ask Me Anything” on reddit.com before launching in December. His regular photo updates always include comments or descriptions that present his own ideas of what he’s seeing. This third trait, I think, is just another example of how Col. Hadfield has an astronomical ability to connect people — and to connect to them himself — from all over the world.
And all this despite being 420.5 kilometers above the surface.
Col. Chris Hadfield helps us see that leadership isn’t always what it looks like: it doesn’t take a podium or an institution. He has a vision to inspire global awareness from his little station in the sky, and he isn’t wasting a minute in making it happen.
If you’d like to follow Col. Hadfield’s adventures, like him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.