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Exclusive Video: Q-and-A With Capt. Scott Kelly

December 1, 2016

What’s the secret to crisis management?

Space flight being so risky and the potential for so many things to go wrong, you always have to be prepared. In crisis situations, I’ve always tried to compartmentalize. It’s the term the Navy uses. That means you’ll focus on the things you can control and ignore what you can’t.

When you’re flying the Space Shuttle and there are things you can do to blow the vehicle up if you make a mistake, you really have to zero in on that and filter out all the noise, which is the stuff that you have no control over.

What have you learned through the years about being a leader?

I’ve seen in my career — which has spanned several decades of military service, government service, working in very high-stress, demanding environments — different kinds of leadership styles. And I’ve seen good examples and bad examples. And the bad examples are usually those people who have one style — they’re either too passive or too aggressive.

The key to being a good leader is recognizing what kind of situation you’re in. Situational-dependent leadership. Sometimes it just makes sense to tell your people “Hey, you guys go figure it out. You decide. You come back. I don’t need to make that decision.” Other times you just maybe get their opinions and then you make the decision. If it’s a fire on the space station, then that’s the time to be a dictator. So it just depends on the situation.

In addition, to be a good leader, you also have to be a good follower. You have to have good followership skills because then you know what you’re looking for in the people that you bring on board. You can’t do anything by yourself. It’s really all about teamwork. And I think situational-dependent leadership is very critical. It’s sad to see when there are people in certain organizations who just really focus on one style and ignore the rest.

Was it possible to achieve any work-life balance while in space?

Well, I was fortunate that I had flown a previous flight of 159 days, so I knew what I was getting into. So I paced myself appropriately, I rested when I could. I wasn’t too ambitious with the personal projects we can get into in our free time. My free time was mostly devoted to getting the right amount of rest and doing things that I wanted to do as relaxation versus some special project.

I tried not to look too far ahead. I would try to look for the next big event and not try to look toward the end. Because when you launch in March and you’re not coming back until the following March, that’s a long time. It’s hard to imagine that you’re not going to be able to leave for a whole year.  

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