Workplace Wisdom From Space: LinkedIn Speaker Series with Captain Jim Whetherbee

October 27, 2017

Before he became a U.S. Navy Aviator, landed airplanes on aircraft carriers, flew fighter jets, and especially before making five successful trips to space, Captain Jim Whetherbee actually hated adrenaline, danger and risk-taking. In fact, he still does.

To this day, he’s clearly been able to suppress this fear while being successful, safe, and productive. This is largely due to a life chalk-full of experiences, several of which were spent facing risk and danger head-on, which helped foster his appreciation for the importance of rules. And, as someone that has had to follow dozens of steps just to wash their hands in space, Captain Whetherbee knows that rules have not only shaped him to be an accomplished employee, but a safe one too.

However, while talking with us at our most recent Speaker Series event, Captain Whetherbee shared his belief that “rules aren’t what help you to face hazards, complete missions, and increase productivity. It’s actually the principles that you supplement those rules with, that makes them effective.”

This thinking, he emphasized, is not only what has helped him find success, but is what can help others to do the same. Whether you’re in a conference room or a cockpit, the principles that Captain Whetherbee believes so passionately in aren’t exclusive to high risk, space-like environments. They are equally as important when approaching any normal day, which can in turn increase collaboration, productivity, and performance whether you’re at work, the office, gym, or anywhere inbetween.

These are the principles that Captain Whetherbee shared with us:

Balance Confidence with Humility. Above all else, your confidence shouldn’t exceed your humility. If this is to be true, then you will carry yourself confidently, but will also prioritize collaboration and input from others, without pushing blame when something does not go according to plan.

Demand Operating Excellence From Yourself First; Then Inspire Others. Very closely correlated to the first principle, leaders and employees alike should constantly be evaluating themselves first. The upside is that everyone works better together, becomes more transparent and effective, and naturally challenges themselves to improve. The questions that Captain Whetherbee asks himself when confronting an issue is:

  • Did I set adequate requirements?

  • Did I provide sufficient resources, knowledge or training?

  • Did I exceed the team’s readiness?

Develop and Maintain Risk Awareness. Always be evaluating risk, and where it may come from. This way, you’re constantly in a state of elevated awareness, which will help you minimize or avoid it. The best way to approach this principle is by:

  • Searching for vulnerabilities based on existing knowledge (historical experience)

  • Maintaining situational awareness (experience in the present moment)

  • Anticipating changing risk (estimating what will present new risk)

Do the Right Thing. In many instances, mistakes, errors, and miscalculations are encountered as a result of not following the rules or procedures correctly, or by following them blindly. Rules are put in place to reduce risk, but it is on you to ensure that those rules are being followed smartly.

Watch the full LinkedIn Speaker Series video below, or listen to the podcast.