Lead like a Martian

Having spent over a year stranded on Mars, Mark Watney’s experiences highlight many important lessons in leadership.  If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend picking up a copy of “The Martian”, by Andy Weir.  The story is of course fictional, however the storyline is quite plausible and the science behind the story is fascinating.  Altogether a highly entertaining book that I just could not put down!

So what is Martian style leadership?  I am sure that everyone who reads this article will have their own opinions (do share) and here are my own.  Spoiler Alert: I tried not to give too much away, but if you have not read the book and hate spoilers, proceed with caution!

Never give up, never say die!  This story has many parallels to the Apollo 13 mission.  In this case an astronaut, Mark Watney, is stranded alone on Mars and supported by a team, that together simply will not give up and will not take no for an answer.  How many times have we seen/witnessed stories of success coming to those who persevered through significant challenges to emerge victorious?

Stay calm under pressure.  It is an understatement to say that Mark Watney faced huge challenges.  Many problems he encountered were unique to his situation and never before solved, yet he remained objective and focused on solutions.  When he couldn’t figure something out, he would often sleep on it and wake up refreshed and full of new ideas.

Dive into the data and do the math!  Whether calculating how many days he could live on potatoes or how much hydrazine to process to create water, Mark clearly did his homework to save his own life.  I am a firm believer in plunging into data at times to deeply understand the issues and reveal new solutions.  This may not save your life, but most certainly will help your career…

Take some risks!  Mark took some audacious risks, most which panned out and some that literally blew up in his face.  Quick to pick himself up, brush off the singed clothing, and move on, the Ares 3 mission would have ended in total failure had Mark not taken huge risks.

Maintain a good sense of humor.  The lesson here is that when your risks bets don’t pan out or when you make a mistake, have a good laugh and move on.  Not to be flippant, but we obviously cannot change the past.  This book has some very funny moments, often related to something going very wrong.  Mark Watney is quick to admit when he screws up, but then moves right on to saving the mission and saving his life.

“The Martian”, by Andy Weir is one of the Science Friday Best Science Books of 2014.  Pick up a copy and share a few of the lessons in leadership that you pick up – there are many.


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