What Can John Glenn Teach Us about Serving Leadership?

What can we learn about serving leadership from John Glenn?What can we learn about serving leadership from John Glenn?

John Glenn passed away last week. He was one of the first men who helped us conquer space. It would be easy to tell you many great stories of his heroism. He, like many aviators from the Midwest, possessed a more quiet courage. He inspired generations of men and women to reach for the stars.

I believe we can learn much from his life and his values. I believe John Glenn would say it wasn’t enough to admire his values, instead it’s critical to cultivate our own in service to others. I would like to share what I learned from John Glenn.

The foundational value of John Glenn was serving others. He placed a high value on serving others with his life, as an astronaut, a senator, and as a loving husband and father. Today, it is hard to believe, but he married his high school sweetheart and stayed married for over 70 plus years. Not to say it was always easy, but they worked together to help achieve their shared vision and dreams. He would often credit Annie for providing the foundation he needed to keep reaching for the stars.

The next value John Glenn had was he was a practical optimist. He knew what he wanted to achieve and was open to different ways of getting there.  Many people don’t realize he learned to fly as a Marine pilot. He, like many men of his time, chose the military to pursue their dreams of flight. The military provided him and many men of his generation the opportunity to pursue their passion of flight.

What we civilians fail to remember is that many of these men saw battle in the air and on the ground. Men of his generation didn’t talk much about what they did and saw. They did, however, share the values of friendship and honor they learned serving their country.

The third value John Glenn shared was fighting for the underdogs in our society. He did this throughout his political career. He understood firsthand the distance between farm and fame. He also learned from the men and women he came in contact with on a regular basis as a senator and astronaut. He was a strident champion for women’s rights. His votes in the Senate focused more on supporting others and helping give others an equal choice in life. John Glenn believed in empowering others through example and deeds.

John Glenn was a man of quiet courage. He went from being a national hero for his trip to outer space to a man who could no longer fly because of a slip and fall in his bathroom. He knew there was something out there for him outside of space travel. He and Annie raised their children here in the Midwest, with Midwest values. It was his children who chose the name Friendship 7 for his Mercury space capsule. It reminded all of the importance of friendship in a life well lived.

If this is all John Glenn accomplished, it would be enough. But he chose to return to space in his 70s to provide us all incredible inspiration for the second half of life. His return to space onboard the shuttle began a series of discussions on how we live and learn in our remaining years. He broke through the gray glass ceiling of living a life of passion.

I’ve left for last the most powerful lesson I learned from John Glenn. He always was striving and never completely arriving. He continued to grow, but along the way tripped over questionable circumstances in trying to find a better life. He taught me to be careful who you get involved with. They may not hold the same values as you do.  He didn’t know at the time how a single act could severely damage a lifetime of good and achievement. Serving leaders must always be aware of who they invest their time in. A lesson several of my more successful clients have shared with me throughout their careers. I believe Warren Buffett said it best “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

John Glenn taught me you can reach and touch the stars while remaining connected to the people and values that keep you on the ground. Rest in peace, John Glenn. You’ve inspired a generation of serving leaders who will continue to positively impact the world through their actions, not words. You’ve given us the lasting power of passion and purpose that can change the world.  May our lives inspire others the way you and Annie did.

Want to learn more about John Glenn’s Life? You might enjoy NASA’s page honoring his life and legacy.

See you next week.

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