NASA Speaker Visits Campus to Discuss Leadership Values

Former NASA executive Paul Hill spoke on the values of leadership in mission control to a group of occupational therapy students Oct. 8 in the Doyne Health Sciences building.

Hill founded and currently runs Atlas Executive Consulting, a firm which develops business strategies and execution plans for organizations and businesses. Hill worked with NASA for 25 years. For the first 20 years, he held formal leadership positions within the control room.

For the last seven or eight years, Hill was a flight director and ran 24 missions. He was also a part of the Columbia accident investigation in 2003. Now, Hill specializes in risk management, critical thinking and leadership.

During his time at NASA, Hill established a sort of code of ethics to ensure that good decisions were made every time and that solutions were reached the right way.

Making perfect decisions is necessary in space flight mission control.

“If one of our people makes a mistake, that mistake could cost us a $500 million mission, plus a multi-billion dollar spacecraft and, most importantly, it could cost us the lives of friends of ours who are living on this thing,” Hill said.

Hill explained that the purpose of leadership is threefold: to accomplish a mission, to prevent catastrophe and to catalyze strategic innovation, or in other words, “get better at what we’re doing.” However, leaders can’t do everything on their own, so it is important to encourage everyone to do the right thing, not just when convenient, but all the time.

The three elements of trust in mission control are competence, character and courage. Hill said competence is the easiest to fulfill in mission control, since everyone hired has already been trained extensively for his job. Character involves making decisions based on the technical truth, or what’s really happening, instead of on what someone planned on happening.

It also involves integrity, which entails knowing the difference between what someone knows and what he thinks he knows.

Courage is a vital element of trust in mission control. Every team member has a responsibility to speak up and challenge the leadership if he has a legitimate reason to.

Hill said these values aren’t just valuable in mission control; they can be applied to business and everyday life.

“Things that we call real-time morality are important to us for more than just what happens in that room,” Hill said. “It applies to everything we do.”

Hill’s daughter, Alyssa Hill, is a graduate student in UCA’s occupational therapy program. It was her idea to invite her father to UCA to talk about leadership.

She said she brought him to speak with occupational therapy students because the values learned in mission control can be applied to all fields.

“The values that they learn in mission control and creating 100 percent performance every time can be taught and can be learned in other organizations to increase their performance, whatever it may be,” Alyssa Hill said.

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