Mission Control Management by Paul Sean Hill: Review

Title: Mission Control Management

Author: Paul Sean Hill

Publisher: Hachette

Price: Rs. 499

Pages: XIX + 279

A book with an excellent cover page and exciting name has got advance praise from all the right people. Authors credentials itself make the book a must-read. Paul Sean Hill was the Director of Mission Operations at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Johnson Space Center until 2014 from 2007. He was responsible for all of NASA’s human spaceflight mission planning, flight controller and astronaut training as well as Mission Control. Before this, he held a number of senior leadership positions, and from 1996 through 2005 he served as a Space Shuttle and International Space Station Flight Director. He supported 24 missions, with leadership roles including planning and leading space station construction in orbit, instrumental leadership in the Columbia accident investigation and returning Shuttle to flight two years later.

The book says: ‘The secret to NASA’s success is not rocket science. In a place where the margin for error is so small, it is a surprising reality that it is rarely a mathematic, scientific or technical error that creates problem. It is the human attention to details which sets them apart’.

The book explores

  • The Science of perfect decision making
  • How to prevent costly mistakes before they occur
  • Why one should build a high trust team
  • How to deliver unexpected innovations and dramatic cost savings
  • The importance of a defining cultural value
  • How to achieve critical strategic wins

These lessons are interwoven in a thrilling insight into the inner working of NASA’s Mission Control. Not surprisingly this has turned out to be one of the best books on leadership in recent times.

A small error at NASA can kill people apart from destroying assets worth million. It can be best understood through the Mission Control’s Core Purpose: Protect the crew and return them safely to the ground at all costs. Ideally, in doing this, prevent damage to the spacecraft, and achieve as many of the mission objectives as possible in that order.

It is a fascinating account of day to day affairs at NASA. NASA also faces human issues like any other organisations and most of the responses to those issues are also like any other organisation. This comes out from the ultimate insider’s account.

As the executive who is credited with revolutionizing the leadership environment in Mission Control’s management ranks, Paul shows leaders how to apply the same core ideas and values to their own challenges and boost team performance in any industry and business.

The book acknowledges the role of other books that helped in training and grooming the executives at NASA. It is a rare, extremely rare phenomenon. The author also frankly talks about his drawbacks and how executive coaching helped him overcome and how he could go back and talk to his team about all of it to bring a change, a positive change. What is unique about this book is that it doesn’t cover only the period when the author was in a leadership role at NASA  but traces his journey through the NASA from his day one. This makes the reader connect with the book and the author more easily.

Some of the situations described in the book do give goosebumps and the credit goes to Paul for describing them so effectively. One forgets for a moment that it is a leadership book. Beauty is that such description instead of being a hindrance in the reading, in reality, enhances the reading experience.

The last chapter, A Roadmap to Transformation is like cherry on the cake. It gives steps, formats on how to implement what has been covered in the book on the leadership front. The book does not leave the reader, in the end, to figure out how to implement what he has just read. The pictures, the diagrams, the tables make the book gripping. Fonts are small and the book has ten chapters split into three parts. Understandably it has a small note and reference section, but it is a powerful one. It is an intense book and an arresting one. It will be of immense help to senior management.

Paul now runs a leadership program based on his experience at Mission Control. It is praiseworthy that no attempt has been made to promote his training program in the book, unlike other leadership books by leadership trainers. This makes Paul and the book outstanding.

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