Oct. 1, 2019

Students get out-of-this-world advice from Col. Chris Hadfield

Haskayne’s Launch Your Leadership event features famous astronaut's wisdom on influencing others by changing yourself
Chris Hadfield on stage
Chris Hadfield presents on the importance of leadership. Courtesy Vian Esterhuizen

One of Canada’s best-known leadership role models, sometimes referred to as “the most famous astronaut since Neil Armstrong,” Chris Hadfield, was the guest speaker at the Canadian Centre for Advanced Leadership in Business’s (CCAL) Launch Your Leadership event on Sept. 26. He addressed students from the Haskayne School of Business, Schulich School of Engineering, Faculty of Kinesiology, Faculty of Science and Faculty of Arts on a broad range of leadership roles that supported the concept that leadership involves “preparation, simulation and focused execution.”

“Leadership is almost, by definition, someone making a choice to do something differently than we have been doing in the past,” Hadfield said. He emphasized that the most critical part of leadership is changing yourself. “The other thing that really matters as a leader is what are you going to do next? It doesn’t matter what you said you are going to do. Or what you hoped you were going to do. Or even what you planned to do. The only thing that matters is what do you do next.”

Hadfield emphasized that leadership involves being an example that others can follow. He said choosing how to represent yourself to the world is another part of leadership and the importance of being an example that other people want to model. “Individuals will follow you if you’re exhibiting traits and behaviours that they would like to incorporate into themselves,” he said.

At the age of 14, Hadfield attended a junior leadership program where he was told that “leadership is the art of influencing human behaviour to accomplish a mission in a manner desired by the leader.” This has shaped his leadership style and showed that leadership is not scientific, it is delicate, it is an art form. Hadfield said as a leader, you need to be able to influence your team, and all work toward a collective goal to celebrate successes and victories.

As a leader, an “important first step is to agree on what does victory look like. What is success?” said Hadfield. “Most of the decisions made by your team are made individually, so if they don’t have a clear understanding of your collective definition of success, then how are they going to make the right little decisions along the way?”

It is important that as a leader you discuss the long-term, medium-term and short-term goals with your team. “Any success from an individual on your team is also a success for you as a leader. That collective mentoring and support of each other to be as good together as a group of people as you can, makes you a successful leader.”

Following the presentation there was a Q-and-A period. One student asked if there was ever a time where he had to deal with a challenging situation while leading a team. Hadfield responded with an anecdote about a time where he was leading three different men on his team, with different backgrounds, from different areas of the world. The team was not cohesive, and he needed to find out why. He used his strong communication skills to figure out the underlying issue and concluded that there was a trust issue among the team.

Once he determined this, he worked with the group and together they came up with collective goals for success. This improved the trust as they were now all working toward the same final goal. “Success is contagious,” he said. Hadfield’s response demonstrated to the audience that problem-solving, good communication skills, celebrating small victories and challenging yourself as a leader are all important factors to be a successful leader.

Haskayne’s CCAL was established in 2012 to provide education and experiences focused on developing leadership potential in students.