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What Astronauts Know About Leadership

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Ellen Ochoa is a former astronaut and the first Hispanic woman to go into space when she served on a nine-day mission aboard the shuttle Discovery in 1993. She is now the director of NASA's Johnson Space Center, which was recently recognized as one of the most innovative agency subcomponents.

Ochoa spoke about her experiences and how they shaped her views on leadership with me, a guest writer for On Leadership and vice president for leadership and innovation at the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. Fox also heads up their Center for Government Leadership.

Q. What are some of the leadership lessons that you learned as an astronaut that you are applying to your role as director of the Johnson Space Center?

A. Being in the astronaut corps really teaches you a lot about leadership. You have to be both a member of the team and at times a leader of the team. Some of my colleagues in the astronaut office were Marines, and they would tell me that in the Marines they had two goals: accomplish the mission and take care of your people. I find myself coming back to that because I think it's a great thing to remember. It boils everything down to two straightforward and important goals.

I'm trying to make sure that the people here have the skills and the infrastructure that are going to allow us to accomplish our mission of advancing human space exploration. It's partly about making sure we're safe and successful, but it's also that my center is prepared to carry out that mission for many years into the future.