It all starts with a dream - exclusive interview with an astronaut

| 01 Oct 2018

Dr Leroy Chiao is a former NASA astronaut. One of only 217 to have ever done spacewalks, or more accurately known as EVA (Extravehicular activity), he belongs to a select group. His message for aiming for the stars? It all starts with a dream.

And his dream of becoming an astronaut begun when he was eight years old. The day he witnessed along with the rest of the world, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin taking humankind's first steps on the moon in 1969. 

"It all starts with a dream. Followed by lots of hard work and planning," he said. "Then you have a chance to hit your goal."

There are so few positions available to become an astronaut, there are no guarantees, he said, growing up in an era when kids dreamt of being an astronaut.

But that’s no reason to stop pursuing your goal. Take control, put yourself in positions to achieve your goal, do the best you can, and “even if you don’t hit your initial goal, you will get somewhere”.

And out of this dream he had as a kid, he eventually became a veteran of four space missions. He was also International Space Station commander, commanding a space station mission for 6-and-a-half months in 2004. All in, he logged over 229 days in space, including six spacewalks totalling 36 hours.

Inspire a nation

While a space programme may feel inconsequential in the face of pressing immediate demands in the world, it is a worthwhile investment.

He said it drives technological advancements and, more importantly, it inspires national pride and young people in the country to have the courage to stretch their minds as to what is possible.

Likewise in the business world, the strategically important may get sacrificed in the pursuit of immediate results. Dr Chiao who is a co-founder and the CEO of OneOrbit, which provides keynotes and training to companies and schools, said while it is important to meet immediate short-term goals, a leader must also “look up and look down the road” to have a strategic vision to galvanise the whole organisation towards a common goal.

Same skillset needed to succeed as astronaut and CEO

Asked about the similarities between being an astronaut and a leader in the corporate world, he said the skillset to be successful in both is similar.

As a space mission commander, he said: “I had to work with the mission control team, the training team, and the mission management team. I didn’t have authority over those people, but we had to work together for the success of the mission. Which is a lot like working in a big corporation where you have to work with different teams, but you may not be the boss.”

In both environments, leadership skills are needed. “They are different things, but the leadership fundamentals are the same - setting high standards, leading by example, respecting people you work with, giving them due credit, and valuing honest feedback.”

One of the leaders he draws inspiration from is General Norman Schwarzkopf Jr, the US Army General who led all coalition forces in the Gulf War while serving as Commander-in-chief, United States Central Command.

“He said it is about character, integrity, and always being willing to do the right thing. If you have those things, the people you are leading will respect and follow you,” said Dr Chiao.

This interview was conducted in Bali where Dr Leroy Chiao spoke at the Strategic Issues Conference 2018 organised by LIMRA and LOMA, with Asia Insurance Review as the official media partner.

Read highlights of the conference: Keeping pace in an environment of disruption.

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