Leave a Footprint, Not a Crater

Neil Armstrong (August 5, 1930 – August 25, 2012)

I am dedicating this article to commander Neil Armstrong who passed away recently. He was best known for NASA’s Apollo 11 mission, being the first man to step foot on the moon and who uttered those famous words, transmitted live to the whole world as he was about to step off the ladder of  the “Eagle” (lunar module):

That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.

You’re probably wondering what this has got to do with your managerial training and future career; well, quite a lot really. I was inspired by a great article: “Five Leadership Lessons From The Life of Neil Armstrong” by Randy Conley.  My post confirms and expands the points raised in Conley’s article so I would strongly suggest everyone to read it too.

Every person starting a new endeavour will naturally look to someone for inspiration and guidance. Call that someone a mentor, role model or [super]hero. As a young manager, just starting out, it is doubly important to be careful to find someone who has a proven track record. Someone who transcends time and culture instead of your superiors who could easily turn out to be unscrupulous and tyrannical individuals. So, look around and if you are short on ideas then, may I suggest, Neil Armstong as your guiding light.

Cdr. Armstrong, despite the superhero like qualities attributed to him by the global press and media, was actually a rather ordinary man – at least that’s how he perceived himself. He never considered his milestone achievements as an individual accomplishment but rather a team effort and just another facet of  a job well done. For a manager this is a must-have attribute; just like Armstrong, you are a Commander, responsible for a Crew whose efficiency will determine the ultimate outcome of a  Mission. You need to respect and nurture the crew yet remain focused on the mission’s directive. With Apollo 11, Armstrong was the commander of the mission but his life also depended on his colleagues, Buzz Aldrin who was with him (second man to walk on the moon) and Michael Collins who remained in orbit in the Command Module. In turn, these three extraordinary men depended on their colleagues back at NASA’s Mission Control. So, you can see how this scenario can apply to you in your job as it is typical of any hierarchical organization. The keywords here are Teamwork, Trust, Efficiency and Decisiveness.

To be decisive does not mean to be a tyrant or to flaunt your superior hierarchical position. Let’s imagine that any organization is like a high-rise building and any career is an elevator ride. With the privilege of a higher education you don’t get to experience working on the lower floors even if it’s always a good idea to know what happens there. You arrive at work, on the express elevator, straight to the higher floors. This express ride to a managerial position shouldn’t make you lose humility, Neil Armstrong’s best known virtue. Now, don’t confuse humility with humiliation (from the movie “The Queen”, methinks). You need to be respected by the crew in order for them to follow and assist you but that respect must be earned over time by listening, understanding and participating with your crew. To terrorize, oppress, discriminate and deride your staff will just cause you to crash and burn later on in your career.

Neil Armstrong’s greatest gift was that he commanded respect but somehow managed to keep his feet on solid ground and later, the moon, as it turned out. Perhaps he belittled himself too much considering what he had achieved and refused to wield the “popularity” sword in order to gain easy access to more public endeavours. A few of his astronaut colleagues ended up in government positions, whether they were any good at it, I don’t know, but I see little in common between the two disciplines.

Instead, Armstrong’s first love was flying, he had a pilot’s license at the tender age of 15 and then went on to become a wartime fighter pilot and later a test pilot of some dicey looking edge-of-space experimental aircraft. I would have imagined that to do that job one must be quite a solitary type, with little regard for one’s own life. Yet, even risking his life everyday he also managed to raise a family and be a loving husband and father. So, in the end he couldn’t have been too much of a recluse. Again, it’s all about Armstrong’s ability to mix it up and live practically antagonistic lifestyles. This is what any manager must strive to become; to try to be everything to everybody, be an individual and yet retain a sense of duty towards others and finally remain calm and collected when confronted with panic situations. Most importantly, you must remain true to the guidelines you set for yourself at work and in life.

I love the ending of Randy Conley’s post where he quotes Armstrong’s family saying a phrase that inspired me to write this article in remembrance of Neil.

While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.

To explore and push limits is what drives creativity and what makes mankind different from the animal kingdom. To selflessly serve a greater cause is what everyone, from pupil to president, must do to help this fragile Earth survive and, in doing so, giving future generations something to call home even if we continue to explore our solar system and beyond.

With the virtues of respect, humility, compassion, curiosity, self sacrifice and a good dose of courage then you have the perfect attributes to leave a perfect Legacy. It is this legacy that I wanted to highlight the most with this article and what made Neil Armstrong such a special person. In the end we will all leave something behind when we eventually join Neil in his new space adventures. For the Love of God, try to leave a nice Footprint to remember you by and not a disaster area of a Crater for people to blast you for.

Wishing God Spede to Neil Armstrong on his new adventures.

For the accompanying artwork I’m providing some variations on the same theme.

1) This article’s featured graphic – Tribute to Neil Armstrong with post title

Download A4 / A3 pdf version

Download full high resolution png version. BIG 22.2Mb 4961 x 3508

2) This article’s featured graphic – Tribute to Neil Armstrong without the post title

Download A4 / A3 pdf version

Download full high resolution png version. BIG 22Mb 4961 x 3508

3) This article’s featured graphic – Tribute to Neil Armstrong and Apollo 11 Crew

Download A4 / A3 pdf version

Download full high resolution png version. BIG 23.2Mb 4961 x 3508

4) This article’s featured graphic – In Memory Of Neil Armstrong

In Memory Of Neil Armstrong (August 5, 1930 – August 25, 2012)

Download full high resolution png version. 8.2Mb 2521 × 2521

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2 thoughts on “Leave a Footprint, Not a Crater

  1. Hi Enzo – Excellent article! I’m glad my blog was helpful in spurring your thinking on this subject. I love the idea of “leaving a footprint, not a crater”!!

    Take care,

    Randy

    • Wow, you beat me to the line. I was going to tweet/DM you about my post and thank you for your inspiring article.

      Randy, I really appreciate your feedback and I’m glad you liked it…I’m kinda new to blogging and I’m always afraid of stepping on toes. 😉

      Take care,
      Enzo

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