What the Challenger disaster can teach leaders today

What the Challenger disaster can teach leaders today | practice (split each time) | 3 ways to make yourself, and your team, more efficient
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January 30, 2024
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Leading the Way
What the Challenger disaster can teach leaders today
Space Shuttle Challenger crew in January of 1986. (Bettmann/Getty Images)
Thirty-eight years after the tragedy that befell the Space Shuttle Challenger and its crew, leaders can still learn from NASA's missteps by identifying their core priorities, building diverse teams and trusting them to make wise decisions and avoid blind spots, writes Jennifer Lotito, the president and COO of (RED). "If your team all looks the same, has similar experiences and tendencies, you're putting yourself at greater risk of groupthink," Lotito concludes.
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Put it into practice: NASA leaders lost sight of their overall commitment to safety and did not trust their teams, who voiced concern about how cold temperatures would affect the craft, Lotito writes. "Without clear priorities, it's easy to get bogged down in distractions and overemphasize less important factors."
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SmartBrief on Leadership
3 ways to make yourself, and your team, more efficient
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Leaders can bring efficiency to their teams by breaking down big goals into manageable 21-day increments with a follow-up review of success and what needs adjusting to meet a team's capacity, writes executive coach Dave Coffaro. Ask yourself if you're working at optimal efficiency and how best to use your time to achieve your company's strategy and vision, Coffaro adds.
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Put it into practice: When leaders align their actions -- and their teams -- with the organization's overall goal, they can work more efficiently and effectively, Coffaro notes. "Making our time count enhances productivity and demonstrates strategic leadership daily."
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Leaders who put the "I" in team are asking for trouble
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Leaders who overuse "I," saying things like "I want" or "I expect," are crushing the success of their direct reports who want to feel like their efforts and collaboration matter, writes Steve Keating. Remedy this by using "we" or "you," actively listening to the needs of your team and empathizing with the feelings of those around you, Keating recommends.
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Put it into practice: Pay attention to how you speak to your team and whether you're overusing "I" and watch your tone "to avoid sounding self-centered," Keating warns. "Balance your statements with a mix of inclusive language. It'll help keep you from sounding like a jerk."
 
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In Their Own Words
Watching her hospital administrator father make personal connections with everyone from the janitor on up instilled a sense of responsibility for people and their success in Jennifer Tejada, CEO of PagerDuty, who says she looks for team members who know how to adjust and work hard. "You need to be surrounded by people who embrace complexity and embrace problem-solving. Then you have to nourish your teams because crisis fatigue is real," Tejada says.
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Daily Diversion
Korean artist Min Kyung-jin is mixing her love of food and animals by creating fish made from bok choy, a puppy created from heads of cabbage, a shaggy dog made of noodles complete with a black olive nose and a pink ribbon and even a hot dog that looks like a ... dog. Kyung-jin posts photos of her creations on Instagram and has released a recipe book.
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About The Editor
Candace Chellew
Candace Chellew
Chellew
When the Challenger tragedy happened in 1986, I was working my second radio job at a small AM station in northeast Georgia. I had gone home at lunch to grab a bite and watched the disaster unfold on CNN as I attempted to eat my sandwich.

The explosion of the shuttle was horrifying enough, but watching the faces of those in the crowd -- including family members of those onboard -- was heartbreaking. The reckoning for NASA and other government agencies over the next few years revealed the missteps that led to the tragedy, and we can still glean valuable leadership lessons today, as Jennifer Lotito notes.

Where were you when the Challenger tragedy occurred? Tell me.

If this newsletter helps you, please tell your colleagues, friends or anyone who can benefit. Forward them this email, or send this link.

What topics do you see in your daily work that I should know about? Do you have praise? Criticism? Drop me a note. And don't forget to send me photos of your pets, your office and where you spend your time off.
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