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What are the most important leadership lessons from this pioneering project?

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For World Youth Skills Day, we have 5 skills that Bill Ochs, Project Manager for the James Webb Space Telescope at NASA, says you need in order to have a successful project: 

1. Understand your personality: good leadership is personality driven, but it can vary greatly from person to person. This does not mean one personality type is worse or better, but it is important that an individual leader recognises the type of leader they are and their strengths and weaknesses. We can then try to improve on those weaknesses or have other people on our leadership team that complement our own weaknesses, or a combination of both. 

2. Be able to listen: good leaders will have a vision of what they want to accomplish, but this vision cannot be deaf to the opinions around them. I have always said a good manager needs to have a bartender’s ear. It is extremely important to hear those around you on your team and be open minded. 

3. Make yourself available: when possible, practise ‘management by walking around’. It not only proactively demonstrates that you are available to your team, but also allows you to stop and chat with people you may not normally interact with. It is really amazing the insight you can get. 

4. Communicate in times of crisis: during a crisis, it is important to be as transparent with your team as possible. A team deserves to know what is going on. Keeping the team informed of how we were planning on keeping people safe while still making progress in the integration and test of the observatory during COVID-19 was crucial to ensure inclusiveness and provide reassurances. It also motivated people to continue to push forward. 

5. Have a sense of humour: when under tremendous pressure, like the Webb telescope project, using humour in staff and technical meetings was an invaluable tool to reduce pressure and stress. It kept people calm and promoted clearer thinking when it came to solving incredibly difficult problems. Humour here is defined as finding it in a particular situation and not about individuals. 


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