Leadership Lessons from Chris Hadfield and Silken Laumann

Identify your dream, dedicate your efforts toward that dream, assemble a team of people who can help you get there, believe in yourself, and learn from and enjoy the journey while getting to where you want to be.  This is some of what I learned from the two autobiographies I read over the past month: Silken Laumann’s Unsinkable: My untold Story and Chris Hadfield’s  An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. Both authors are remarkable individuals and both have accomplished incredible feats.  

Chris Hadfield’s career as an astronaut who has been in space three times is awe-inspiring as he describes a life of dedication to his dream. Silken Laumann’s single-minded recovery from a horrific leg injury only 10 weeks before the Olympics to win Bronze in the single sculls event in Barcelona (1992) is inspiring. Yet their autobiographies couldn’t be more different.

Chris Hadfield’s autobiography is very earnest and reflects the very competitive world of what it takes to be an astronaut. It’s about paying attention to detail, of a lifetime of dedication to becoming and being an astronaut and about practicing until you are perfect. He shares his fears and uncertainties, but does not show the raw vulnerability Silken Laumann shares in her book.  Like Chris, Silken is clear about her goal (reading the Olympics in Barcelona and being the fastest female rower in the world) and you get a good sense of the pain and sheer determination it took to get there.  What I liked most about her writing is the vulnerability she showed in sharing the hardships of her childhood (her mother was abusive and her unpredictable moods greatly affected Silken), her courage to dig into her past when she finally saw a counselor, her own struggles with depression and her description of her passion (motivational speaking and writing) and love for David-Patchel-Evans (Patch). Combined they have four children and her love and dedication to Patch’s oldest daughter who has autism, requires much love and patience. 

Leadership lessons

Dream big and make sure it’s your dream

Hadfield was inspired as a little boy to become an astronaut. He didn’t know how, but it was his guide to decision-making throughout his life. He wasn’t deterred by those who said he couldn’t do it or the fact that the chances of a Canadian making it to space were slim. At eleven Laumann’s imagination told her she could be the best at something in the world. It was running track that got the ball rolling, but rowing captured her heart. 

Set short-term and long term goals

When Hadfield was nine years old he asked himself “what would an astronaut do?” In elementary school it was getting good grades. Becoming a test pilot was the answer later in life. Laumann wanted to make the National Rowing team at first (it took her months) and wanted to be the fastest woman in the world. That took her nine years.

Pay Attention to all the little details / Don’t sweat the small stuff

Hadfield is clear that being prepared – in some cases over prepared is key to success. Not cleaning your visor properly can provide for dangerous moments of stinging blindness in outer space. Laumann makes a strong case for not letting the little things get you down and paying attending to the big picture.  Both make it clear that extensive practice makes perfect.


Hadfield is competitive, caring and clear on who he is. He enjoys doing a great job and is dedicated to what he does in all aspect of his life. From his book it seems he is the same person whether he is part of a space station team or at home. He tackles the delicate balance of being highly competitive with other astronauts to get to where he wants to be and being supportive of each other in space and on training missions.

It wasn’t until later in life though that Laumann discovered that finding her own voice and freeing herself from the defining voices of her past (her mother, society) allowed her to be happy and let her view herself and others for who they are not what others expect them to be.

Accept and Seek Support from Others

Both Hadfield and Laumann are clear on what it takes to make your dreams come true. There is a belief in your own ability to be to make it, AND it takes a team of support to make it happen. Hadfield’s training came from the armed forces, flight schools and from NASA’s incredible programs (once selected). His support at home came from his wife Helene who provided unwavering support for him – even when he was away for months at a time. His book also shows how important it is to have a support system in place for your loved ones on earth while you are in space. Laumann is honest in her struggle with self-doubt, but also acknowledged the incredible support from her father at a young age, her first husband and rower John Wallace, her coach Mike Spracklen who called her on her self doubt, believed in her and dedicated time to her and her life partner David Patchel Evans. Together they raise their four children and in turn support them in their dreams. Her description of the rewards and challenges of raising Kilee who has autism are poignant and I admit to crying and smiling at the same time when she describes how her children dj and dance with Kilee in the living room. 

Both books provide leadership and life lessons. I admit that I found Laumann’s book easier to read and my connection with her was instantaneous. I found Hadfield’s book harder to get through, but his words made me reflect on my own work ethic and dedication to my dreams.  Read both and let me know what you think.

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