7 Groomsmen, 6 Bridesmaids (one 7 ½ months pregnant), a bride, a groom, and a photographer hitchhiking in Minnesota. Lucky me, I was the 7 ½ months pregnant bridesmaid. And boy were there leadership lessons to learn!

 Amidst breathtaking scenery we had the opportunity to make lemonade from lemons a few weekends ago when our party bus broke down en route to the reception for a dear friend’s wedding. With the formal pictures done,  it was time to celebrate. Only problem? The party bus couldn’t seem to get above 15 mph and we had 25 miles to go. At that rate we’d barely make it for dessert!

Here are the three leadership lessons that I learned:

Lesson 1: Empower Your People to Speak Up

The bus driver did his job, but he did not succeed. When it became evident to the wedding party that there was a problem with the bus, the driver had yet to alert us on any issues. Maybe he was just doing his job.

Maybe he was afraid of speaking up. Maybe he sincerely thought it would fix itself. Whatever was at the root though, this driver did not succeed. He had an opportunity to make a bad situation better by communicating early and clearly. He did neither. The situation got worse.

At many organizations, employees at many different levels feel their concerns, if voiced, at best will go unheeded and at worst will be derided.  Many leaders don’t even realize that it’s their well-meaning actions that is suppressing their team’s voice and desire to share ideas or concerns.

Step back and examine your company culture, the actions that leaders take both deliberately and unconsciously.  Does it support your people’s voice being heard?

Lesson 2: Speak the Technical Truth

A concept we explore in our Apollo Leadership Experience is speaking the technical truth.  At NASA, if you know a technical truth that could avert a problem, make a project better or help a colleague and you DON’T speak up, you could lose your job.  Because that IS your job.

It may sound logical but take a moment: how many times have you said or heard others say something like “I think ‘x’ but no way I’m putting my neck out for him” or “this project is going off the rails, but I’m just doing my job.”

Are you willing to stand up for the technical truth and risk it all?  Are you creating an environment where your leaders can do the same?  Does your culture seek out and celebrate those that take the personal risk?

Lesson 3: Use the Resources You Do Have

One of my favorite moments in Apollo 13 is when Gene Kranz asks his team: “What do have on the spacecraft that’s good?” He’s looking for the available resources and to innovate in some way to use those resources to improve their situation.

Sitting on the side of the highway in long formal gowns, heels, and suits in the Minnesota summer heat didn’t sound like a fun idea.  But, we had a photographer with us.  Why not capture some amazing bridal-party hitchhiking photos, bridesmaids walking the highway off-ramp like models on the runway and the bride and groom kissing under the “danger wrong way” sign?  Some call it turning lemons into lemonade.  I call it using our resources.

P.S. – Turns out we didn’t actually have to hitchhike to the reception.  The father of the groom and some other guests came to our rescue.



(Photo Credit: Shane Long Photography)