Monday’s keynote speaker was Adam Steltzner, lead landing engineer of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover Project. In a Q&A following his talks, Steltzner made these points about leadership and teamwork:
• Leaders encourage team members to find something positive, “something to love” about teammates. Steltzner led a core team of 15-20 people on the Curiosity Rover Project.
• Leaders accept not everyone is a team player. Some people don’t want to be loved, don’t want to be on a team. They believe their power comes from knowledge that only they possess, and they don’t want to share it. Steltzner called it a type of insecurity. Sometimes it’s necessary to take people who are proud that “they know something no one else does” and move them off the team and into a marginal position.
• Leaders put distance between people and their ideas. They encourage self-criticism, holding up your ideas to harsh, objective scrutiny. They remind people that ideas may seem perfect when first thought up, but gradually will lose their shine under critical analyses.
•”Beautiful things really happen in small gestures.”
• Teams must be aware of the unintended consequences of fixes and solutions. Hunt for them; think them through. Don’t dismiss the concept of unintended consequences. They happen.
•Team collaboration is a product of incremental good choices; not a singular stroke of genius. Incremental collaboration takes patience.
• Teams tend to underestimate the task at hand, the assignment, and what it will take to achieve success. One key is to very early on get the team to agree on the scope of their assignment. The scope must be defined in order for resources to be allocated and a timeline developed.
• Leaders lead by influencing, not by exercising authority. A President can issue Executive Orders, but that’s not an exercise in collaboration and engagement.