Leadership Lessons from Space
Sally Ride never intended to shatter the glass ceiling, but she certainly "shattered the space ceiling" and became a true inspiration to legions of young girls, like myself. But her leadership legacy extends far beyond inspiring female youth.
By all accounts, Sally Ride was a leader. Yes, she was the first female American astronaut, but she was also the youngest (at 32), a star tennis player, a standout physicist and engineer, a leading graduate of Stanford, and a successful entrepreneur in the young field of STEM education for girls. In reviewing her extraordinary accomplishments, I've gleaned some valuable, and universally applicable, leadership lessons that extend far beyond the inspirations of a young girl:
- Seize the moment with confidence -- Dr. Ride became an astronaut by answering a NASA want ad. She said "I'm one of those people." She seized the opportunity with great confidence and never looked back.
- Maintain composure and avoid distractions -- She endured a barrage of questions during the Challenger pre-flight press conference that focused almost entirely on her female-ness, and not on her education, training, or readiness to do the job. She remained calm throughout, only commenting "It's too bad this is such a big deal." Dr. Ride never let other people's focus on her gender become her focus.
- Find your niche and set yourself up for success -- Dr. Ride switched from physics to engineering in order to help develop the shuttle's robotic arm. Her command of that arm is ultimately what led to her selection for the Challenger mission. She found her niche, worked hard, and by switching her educational pursuits, she set herself up for success.
- Return the favor -- After she retired from NASA, she still served on both shuttle-disaster panels, became a physics professor and director of the California Space Institute, wrote six science books for kids, and started a company to "make science and engineering cool again." She returned a lot to the community and left a legacy for the world.
Dr. Ride's initial ride into space is what made her famous, but it was her education, persistence, diligence, and quiet leadership that truly will continue to inspire people well into the future -- even young girls who didn't have the benefit of actually watching her in space, but whose mothers and fathers did.