Leadership Lessons from Neil deGrasse Tyson

By Gino Blefari:

On this blog, I want to do something different and take you on my own personal journey. When I first got into real estate, my new job was complemented by my ever-present craving for learning, and it served me well as I began my career. With a Wildly Important Goal to know as much about real estate as possible, I listened to every single real estate trainer I could think of – Mike Ferry, Floyd Wickman, Tommy Hopkins. Any sales trainer for real estate out there at the time was on my radar … and my reading list. I even memorized purchase contracts and every one of the forms there were, because I knew to succeed in the industry, I had to commit those to memory.

The next frontier in my life was an obsession with what makes people successful. I studied Earl Nightingale, Brian Tracy, Jim Rohn, Anthony Robbins, anyone who taught success.

Then, I was obsessed with leadership, so I read everything I could on leadership and studied all the great leaders – Presidents, Jack Welch, Lee Iacocca, Tom Peters, John Maxwell, Harvey Mackay, Warren Buffett, any of the great leaders and executives.

From there, I was moved to grow my spiritual side. I listened to everything and read everything Deepak Chopra ever published, and studied the likes of Wayne Dyer, and read the Bible from front to back.

In 2019, an article in The Wall Street Journal about the day the dinosaurs died sparked my next obsession and I became enraptured with dinosaurs, learning as much as I could about them, which led me to the cosmos and the universe and how the universe works. This search is how I ultimately came to discover Neil deGrasse Tyson, American astrophysicist, planetary scientist, author and science communicator, who studied at Harvard, University of Texas at Austin, Columbia University and Princeton University. He eventually became the director of the Hayden Planetarium and oversaw an extensive renovation of the famed NYC landmark. He is a prolific author, penning such bestsellers as “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry,” and “Letters from an Astrophysicist.”  He also rebooted the TV series “Cosmos,” which was originally hosted by his mentor, famed astronomer, Carl Sagan.

One of my favorite Neil Degrasse Tyson videos is called “What Is the Cosmic Calendar?” where Tyson explains the vastness of time by taking all of time from the birth of the Universe to this very second, compressing it into a single calendar year. On that scale, each month is more than 1 billion years, and each day is about 40 million years. 437.5 years pass by every second. January 1 is the birth of the universe, The Big Bang. January 22, the first galaxies form. March 15, the Milky Way begins to form. The sun, our star, was born on August 31. Jupiter and the other planets, including our own, followed soon after. On September 21, tiny creatures found a way to live in the ocean. Some time on December 26, the first mammals occurred. December 30, non-avian dinosaurs go extinct. (Watch the full video here. But I encourage you to read Tyson’s books and for even more fascinating insights into the Universe.)

A brilliant educator, Neil Degrasse Tyson is a leader who has inspired so many to think above and beyond, breaking limits even the sky cannot contain. Here are three leadership lessons we can learn from Tyson:

Your true impact on the world is not about what people remember you teaching them; it’s about the tools and processes you instill in your team to allow them to think in new ways. Tyson says that he wants his lasting impact on the world to be that people are empowered by his teachings in such a way that they no longer think of him when they think about how he has changed how they process ideas. Instead, they have a whole new basis of understanding how the world works. “I become irrelevant,” Tyson says. Instead of teaching with authority – do this, say that – he wants to teach with foundational values, laying the groundwork for the way his “students” approach the world. “Then they can run off and don’t even look back,” he explains. Because they now have a whole new level of hunger with the tools and methods to feed that hunger, which Tyson, even if they don’t realize it, made available to them. On his tombstone, Tyson wants his epitaph to read: “To be ashamed to die until you have scored some victory for humanity.” He says he doesn’t need statues or awards; he just wants the world to be a little better off for him having lived in it. This is why Tyson says to give with no expectation, because it is not about the giving, it is about the impact you can make on others through the act of your particular, unique gift.

You have the power to add meaning to your life. Meaning is not found, it is created. Tyson says some people think that the search for meaning in life is about looking under a rock or behind a tree but he says, “You have more power than that. You have the power to create meaning in your life rather than passively look for it.” But what is meaning for Tyson? It is defined by answering the question: Do I know more about the world today than I knew yesterday? He says it’s about using the powers and capabilities available to you to add value to the lives of others, to decrease their suffering and increase their joy.

Small gestures yield big results, and it is your obligation as a leader to fulfill them when you can. As you go through your day, Tyson says to ask yourself if there is a small gesture you can do that will add value to someone’s life. Maybe it takes 10 minutes from your day but if it means bringing happiness, enlightenment, fulfillment, or easing pain in the lives of others, he calls it “irresponsible” not to do that. We describe these as “small wins,” which are exactly what they sound like and are a part of how keystone habits create widespread changes. A huge body of research has shown that small wins have enormous power, an influence disproportionate to the accomplishments of the victories themselves. Small wins are a steady application of a small advantage. Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win. Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.

So, what’s the message? Tyson says almost 80% of what he does as a leader to educate the public is driven by duty, and not ambition. If there’s something he can do better than others that will create positive change in society, as a leader, he has a duty to get that done. And as leaders, so do we.

Respond to Leadership Lessons from Neil deGrasse Tyson

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