With many leaders and followers operating under unusual circumstances due to the covid-19 epidemic, some expertise was sought from those who work under the most unusual circumstances of all: space-dwelling NASA astronauts.
NASA experts developed a list of 5 ‘expeditionary behaviors’ which they have found contribute to their people being “happy, productive, and successful.” While they say that their strategies “can be applied to any situation that involves working remotely as a group,” my opinion is that they are actually universally applicable, and would be good for us to keep in mind in any of our leader-follower circumstances.
You can find the full text of the article from CNBC.com here: 5 tips NASA astronauts use when living in ‘confinement’ in space to stay happy and productive. I’ll offer my summary and application from a specifically followership perspective below.
The 5 skills they list are:
- Communication > “share information and feelings freely”, including “admitting when there’s a misstep” and being “effective listeners”
With the heart of leadership-followership being relationship, communication is absolutely at the core of engaging in a productive and satisfying dynamic. I appreciate the NASA advice toward very ‘human’ communication: not just the data of business, but feelings, mistakes, and ensuring that we truly hear one another.
- Leadership (and ‘followership’) > “Trust and responsibility are the hallmarks of good leadership and followership….” Leaders should provide a good example, as well as “resources, solutions, tasks and goals.” Followers should “actively contribute,” likewise offering solutions and helping to overcome hurdles.
This perspective accords so well with my own view of leaders as those who are tasked with facilitating excellent followership by granting access to resources and applying helpful structures to facilitate networking and communication.
And, my core message for followers is: participate! “Actively contribute”—well said!
- Self-care > “be proactive and stay healthy”. “Consider how your own habits are influencing your mood and stress levels, and how the rest of your team might be affected.”
One of my obligations of followership (Chapter 5) is to ‘be’: to have a right attitude and to pursue personal development. I make a strong case for continuing to advance in our own self-awareness, and the vital reality of “rest as a resource” (Chapter 13).
And certainly, we are all part of a broader network consisting of engagement with our peers, superiors, and perhaps subordinates as well. There is no escaping the impact that our health (or unhealth) has on the broader group endeavor (see The Dark Side of Followership).
- Team care > “we’re all in this together”, “be patient and respectful”, “foster good relationships with your coworkers”
It is mutually beneficial to pursue positive interactions with your co-laborers. At a minimum, we must always guard against perceiving our leaders (or fellow followers) through a lens of antagonism or opposition; it is not us vs. them. And if we ever adopt that perspective, any chance of being respectful, patient, or exhibiting a host of other virtues (forgiveness, understanding, submission, trust, etc.) goes to zero and beyond.
- Group living > Establish a “group culture” as the outworking of “different opinions, cultures, perceptions, skills and personalities.” “Respect roles, responsibilities and workload.”
There is no doubt that various points of diversity can create tension, and do take effort to overcome. While in some respects, corporate/group culture is foisted upon individual members—there is a reasonable expectation that we assimilate, conform, adopt the overarching mission, values, and methods of the enterprise we’re affiliating ourselves with—there is also great value in shaping departmental/team culture to be more nuanced and reflective of the individual participant-contributors. This is behind the notion of “establishing the environment” (Chapter 25), even while we appreciate the cultural challenges (Chapter 10) that may impede the practice of excellent followership.
No doubt, if you look back far enough in my childhood memory book, an annual record my mother kept of my various dreams and achievement, you’ll see at some point my answer to “What I want to be when I grow up…” as ‘astronaut.’
Although I will never likely venture into space, having read this NASA advice, it seems that my pursuit of excellent followership may actually give me a good taste of some of the most important facets of being a successful astronaut!
Keeping these 5 behaviors in mind, whether we work face-to-face or at a distance, and whether we feel confined or free, will surely enable us to be a positive influence and a productive contributor to our team dynamic and the achievement of our organizational aims.
For encouragement and guidance in understanding and applying yourself to following and leading with excellence and helping others to do the same, see:
Embracing Followership: How to Thrive in a Leader-Centric Culture (by Allen Hamlin Jr; Feb 2016), and A Discussion Guide for Teams & Small Groups (Dec 2017) —