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Useful Business Tips From An Astronaut

04/09/2014 12:47 EDT | Updated 06/09/2014 05:59 EDT

Chris Hadfield dreamt of being an astronaut when he was just nine years old, having watched the first man walk on the moon and he knew in that instant, that this was what he wanted to do when he grew up. Now Canada didn't even have a space program then, so this was a real stretch.

As he talked to business owners, it was clear that in addition to his amazing space adventures, he had pertinent lessons to share too.

1. Be purposeful with your goals

How do you sustain optimism when you are set upon a goal that may never happen? He decided that while he would take concrete steps towards his audacious goal, he was not going to make it the measure of his life. When you start a business, particularly one that has never been done before, you likely face similar naysayers who say it can't be done.

As Hadfield observed we can't control what happens in the world, but we can control the decisions we make. With singular purpose, he strategically became a pilot first, moving through to become an astronaut with the Canadian Space Agency and then of course, the first Canadian Commander of the International Space Station.

2. Take risks

While we may feel as business owners that we are risk-takers, Hadfield takes it to a whole new level. He described, with great humour, his breakfast before leaving for the Space Station, thinking to himself, that he was either leaving earth to float weightless above the world, or worst case scenario, he'd soon be dead. We can't compete with him on that level.

3. Visualize failure

Much is written in business circles of visualizing your success. Well for astronauts, it is quite the reverse, they spend considerable time visualizing failure; simulating what they would do if something went wrong -- and in space, the scope is unlimited.

As business owners we need to do that too and be prepared for what could go wrong, with a plan B (or C) in our back pocket, so that we are not paralyzed or wiped out by situations beyond your control.

4. Build your competency

Hadfield and his team had five years to prepare for their six-month stay at the International Space Station. Time, he said, they used wisely to build their competencies, to become a united team and to work through exactly what they would do in the event of trouble.

And it is as well they did, because during the last few weeks of their stay, there was a leak of ammonia that had to be immediately fixed. Two of the team had to go outside the space station to fix it, which could have ended tragically, but it didn't.

5. As a leader delegate, give responsibility

Much, I think can be credited to Hadfield's leadership style. He'd built a strong team, gave them responsibility and trusted that they knew their stuff. It was an ongoing process too, because there was always change and something new to learn.

Be it in space, or on earth, it is all about empowering people, teaching them the skills they need to succeed, letting go and giving them direct responsibility.

6. Listen

Coming from different countries, he was determined that language not be a barrier within the team. The key, he said, was to hear and listen to what was being said and to verify what was being communicated to make sure you grasped the point correctly.

7. Don't take yourself too seriously -- keep your sense of humour

Hadfield poked fun at himself and the situations he would find himself in - like the pink/blue big-boy pull-up diapers he had to wear before take off or how he felt when he was catapulted back to earth, pulled out the capsule and plopped into a deckchair and an apple placed in his hand.☺

8. Use social media to share your knowledge

Using Twitter, Hadfield brought space literally down to earth with his photos and music. But as he observed, social media is powerful and should be used to inform, increase knowledge and connect people, not for self-interest.

9. Success is made up of small wins

We all have our definitions of success, for Hadfield he values the small successes in life. As he said in his book An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth -- "If I'd defined success very narrowly, limiting it to peak, high-visibility experiences, I would have felt very unsuccessful and unhappy during those years. Life is just a lot better if you feel you're having ten wins a day rather than a win every ten years or so."

10. Be proud of what you've achieved

And as he retires, he concludes that "endings don't have to be emotionally wrenching if you believe you did a good job and you're prepared to let go."

Wise words.

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