Colonel Mullane was born September 10, 1945 in Wichita Falls, Texas but spent much of his youth in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he currently resides. Upon his graduation from West Point in 1967, he was commissioned in the United States Air Force. As a Weapon Systems Operator aboard RF-4C Phantom aircraft, he completed 134 combat missions in Vietnam. He holds a Master's of Science Degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology and is also a graduate of the Air Force Flight Test Engineer School at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
Mullane was selected as a Mission Specialist in 1978 in the first group of Space Shuttle Astronauts. He completed three space missions aboard the Shuttles Discovery (STS-41D) and Atlantis (STS-27 & 36) before retiring from NASA and the Air Force in 1990.
Mullane has been inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame and is the recipient of many awards, including the Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross, Legion of Merit and the NASA Space Flight Medal.
Since his retirement from NASA, Colonel Mullane has written an award-winning children's book, Liftoff! An Astronaut's Dream, and a popular space-fact book, Do Your Ears Pop In Space? His memoir, Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut, has been reviewed in the New York Times and on the Jon Stewart Daily Show. It has also been featured on Barnes and Noble’s 2010 recommended summer reading list.
Mullane has held a lifelong passion for mountain climbing. Since age 60 he has summited Africa’s highest peak, Mt. Kilimanjaro, as well as Mt. Rainier and thirty-three of Colorado’s highest peaks.
Colonel Mullane has established himself as an acclaimed professional speaker on the topics of teamwork, leadership and safety. He has educated, entertained, inspired and thrilled tens of thousands of people from every walk of business and government with his incredibly unique programs.
Countdown To Teamwork
a teamwork program by Astronaut Mike Mullane
In “Countdown To Teamwork” Astronaut Mullane delivers a hard-hitting, substantive teamwork and leadership program with a discussion on the following fundamentals:
Guarding against a "Normalization of Deviance"
Normalization of deviance is a long term phenomenon in which individuals or teams repeatedly “get away” with a deviance from best practices (in safety, reliability, quality, etc.) until individual/team decisions become significantly biased by this logic: Repeated success in accepting deviance from best practices implies future success. Over time, the individual/team fails to see their actions as deviant. Normalization of deviance leads to “predictable surprises” which are invariably disastrous to the team.
Mullane uses the Challenger tragedy as a telling example of “Normalization of Deviance”. Under tremendous schedule pressures the NASA team accepted a lower standard of performance on the solid rocket booster O-rings, i.e., they repeatedly accepted heat damage that was never expected. The team slowly fell into the trap of believing their repeated success in accepting the deviance implied future success. A “predictable surprise”, i.e., a deadly disaster, resulted.
Mullane continues with a discussion on defending against “Normalization of Deviance”:
a. Remember your vulnerability. If it can happen to NASA, it can happen to anybody.
b. Plan the work and work the plan under an umbrella of “situational awareness”.
c. Listen to the people closest to the issue.
d. Communicate – If you see something, say something.
e. Archive and review near-misses and disasters.
The power of all teams resides in the uniqueness of the team members; in their diversity of life experiences which yields a diversity of insights into team situations. When individuals become “passengers” and don’t put their unique perspectives on the table for the team and leadership to consider, the team will suffer. Mullane drives home this point in his recounting of a story in which he did not express his concern at the decision of a pilot to continue a mission past a low-fuel safety point. They narrowly escaped death when later it became necessary to eject from the crashing jet. Mullane had fallen into the trap of believing somebody else was more qualified to take care of mission safety. He became a passenger. "One person with courage forms a majority", is a quote by former President Andrew Jackson that Mullane will use in this discussion.
Everyone has a sacred responsibility to get their unique perspectives on the table for the leadership to consider; to never assume somebody else is going to fill in for them. Leaders have a sacred responsibility to empower the voices of their people so that no one is allowed to slip into a passenger mode.
Mullane closes this discussion with a real world example of how a medical doctor at NASA (not an engineer or astronaut) had the best solution for an engineering problem associated with the post-Challenger shuttle bailout system. This is an example of how great ideas can exist in the minds of people who are not considered the experts on a particular issue.
Most audiences are shocked to learn how ordinary Mullane was. People assume because he is an astronaut now, that in his youth, he was a super-child, destined for great success. That is not the case. Mullane uses slides and video to prove he wasn't a child genius. He wasn't a high school sports star. He didn't date the homecoming queen. He wasn’t popular. Yet he realized a lifetime dream through the practice of self-leadership. Every individual and team has an “edge of a performance envelope”. That edge is much further out than individuals and teams realize and they find it through the practice of self-leadership.
Self-leaders set very lofty goals and tenaciously pursue those goals especially when obstacles complicate the mission. Mullane develops this philosophy of self-leadership: "Success isn't a final destination. It's a continuous life journey of working toward successively higher goals for yourself and your teams."
Countdown To Teamwork is remarkably educational, motivating and humorous. The audience will come away from the program with a renewed sense of their potential and the potential of their teams.
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