Key To Success: Getting Comfortable Being Uncomfortable S13 Ep2

Guest: Gretchen McClain - Former Chief Director of NASA's International Space Station Program

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Innovation is all about change. The need to change includes you and your career, the organizations you are a part of and even the governments that serve us. This change requires us to be in a constant state of being uncomfortable.

This weeks guest on the show is Gretchen McClain. I met Gretchen back in 1998 when she was the Chief Director for the International Space Station program for NASA. She started her career as a mechanical engineer, went on to oversea a key project for NASA and then goes on to become a stand-out leader in the commercial industry.

Getting Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

During the show we discussed:

  • What inspired her to become an engineer.
  • The role of a support network, in her case – parents and siblings, towards her becoming an engineer.
  • Her experience in an internship that set the foundation.
  • How she get hired at NASA.
  • What was it like to land a position where the mission had such global impact.
  • Her experience in dealing with government leaders acting as the innovation antibodies.
  • The thinking behind inviting other countries to be part of the International Space Station — including Russia and Japan.
  • How to deal with silo's to achieve the bigger goal.
  • The challenges of transitioning from government to the commercial sector.
  • How taking risks (raising your hand and being uncomfortable) is scary but a critical step to career success.
  • Asking for help is not a sign of weakness or failure.
  • The fear of failure will hold you back.

Three Pieces of Advice to College Students

  • Believe in yourself: Empower yourself to take risks and to risk failure. Surround yourself with people who can help you achieve the success you desire. Declare the success you want.
  • Lead with a power vision: Create a common/shared inspiration that your teams can support and want to be a part of.
  • Stay in the “rookie mode”: Never forget what it was like when you first started your career and never loose the tension. Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

About Gretchen McClain:

Gretchen W. McClain is an accomplished business leader who thrives on energizing organizations and building businesses by enhancing innovation and developing exceptional leadership talent. With more than 25 years of global experience in both Fortune 500 corporations and government service, including serving as founding CEO of an S&P 500 global water technology company, Xylem Inc., and NASA’s Chief Director of the International Space Station, McClain brings extensive business, developmental, strategic and technical expertise. Her distinctive leadership approach – focused on helping companies break down internal barriers to identify new ways to create value and integrate technologies – enables organizations to unlock growth and gain critical competitive advantage.

McClain serves as a Board of Director for publicly traded companies: AMETEK, Inc., Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corporation, and Boart Longyear Limited, and a private family owned business, J.M. Huber Corporation and serves as an Advisor to EPIC Ventures. Through her consulting practice, GWMcClain Advisory Services, she provides leadership and business services to executives, frequently working with start-up businesses and private equity firms.

McClain is also a thought leader and speaker on connecting your work to your higher purpose, becoming a stand-out leader, and the adventurous paths available to engineers and technologists.

She graduated from the University of Utah with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and received the University’s prestigious Founders Award in 2015. McClain was inducted into the Utah Technology Council Hall of Fame and is the first woman to receive this honor.

You can contact Gretchen at:

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