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8 Core Leadership behaviours that changed NASA

Updated: May 18, 2021

...and how applying them can elevate the value of your finance organization.

4D processes were used to transform NASA leadership to a new level of excellence, and B Inspired is a designated 4D consultant that can help you understand how to apply this within your team.

4D is a simple model of leadership that in finance terms balances collaboration, relationships, strategy and execution. The NASA 4D terms are Cultivating, Including, Visioning, and Directing. Each of these dimensions have two key Leadership behaviours assigned to them that are core to the excellence of the dimension.

1. Express Authentic Appreciation (Cultivating/Relationships dimension)

Finance is all about the execution of an excellent strategy. What is overlooked with frustrating regularity is a critical behaviour that enables a baseline for team to execute on this strategy; expressing authentic appreciation for people on the team. We all have the need to feel valued and to know that the time spent on delivering performance excellence is appreciated. Picture all of the extra efforts needed at times to hit deadlines, automate redundant processes or improving the status quo. What motivates people to do this hard work on a consistent basis is how leaders make them feel after these heroic efforts are completed. The common-sense aspect to this is remarkably ignored. Annual performance reviews that give a 2% raise and generic thanks for your contributions; how did they motivate you when you were in those roles? Working all weekend to send a report that you completely redesigned that you thought would transform the way the business is analyzed met with a generic thanks two days later; how motivated are you to go above and beyond again?

Authentic appreciation doesn’t cost a lot, doesn’t take a lot of time, and only requires you to notice your team and recognize their value. Authenticity comes with timely and relevant appreciation, specific to what you and your team values. You want your team to deliver on execution of a vision, so make sure that they receive the serotonin that comes from a statement as simple as the following: “Thanks Phil for redesigning the management package. I know you have regular deliverables at month end that made this a timing challenge, so I appreciate your extra efforts. The redesigned package will help the management team make better informed decisions which has tremendous value, thank you!”

Be the leader that knows that paying attention to this deep emotional need will help motivate your team to continue to do great things.

2. Addressing Shared Interests (Cultivating/Relationships dimension)

Building key relationships is a fundamental skill in Finance business partnering. Remember that course in your CPA training that taught you how to business partner and build relationships? Neither do I. And yet relationship skills are critical to improve your value as a finance professional. Thanks to NASA 4D we have a critical behaviour that is easy to apply to relationships in your work and personal life: addressing shared interests. What do your business partners want that you can want for them as well? It will differ with each situation, but you’ll want to identify specific achievements aligned to company goals that leads to mutual success for your business partner and yourself. When you are in a role that has unlimited wants but limited means you’ll have to practice this skill often. Can’t approve a deal, give out more budget or hit a deadline request? Think about what do they want that you can want for them also? Focusing on alignment of interests will help build some rapport equity when more challenging situations arise. Your business partners will remember the times you helped reshape a deal or found more budget to help the company achieve their goals. Furthermore, to further deepen your working relationships, identify shared personal interests as well. Notice how popular the question “What series are you watching on Netflix?” has become? Notice how the dynamics change after someone talks about their kids and you can express a similar shared experience? Connecting with people and making them feel like you value them as a person will improve alignment when the end goal of executing on the company vision is carried out.

Finance excellence can only be achieved when there is strength in the relationship between the finance leads and the business leaders they are partnering with. Turning this critical behaviour into a habit will help you transform your vital relationships into strong partnerships.

3. Keeping Your Agreements (Including/Collaboration dimension)

Keeping your agreements has a few different layers, all of them are about building trust and reliability within teams. Broken agreements, like showing up to a meeting two minutes late might not seem like a big deal, but it sends a message that you don’t value the time of others. It wasn’t important enough for you to block off the five minutes between meetings, or to skip the coffee run, or to manage your bio break. Leadership greatness is all about consistently developing your habits in a positive way. Make sure you keep even the most seemingly insignificant agreements as they reflect on how you care about others. On a more serious note, missing deadlines or delivering low quality work will need a course correction if you’re interested in being successful in your job. Processing broken agreements is critical and using a 4D flow is the best method to execute this process. “I apologize for missing the deadline, I make no excuses for this. I’d like to reset the timing so that you can review the documents by next week, please confirm if this is agreeable”. Even better, renegotiate your agreement before it is broken. Proactively renegotiation shows that you care and without excuses expectations are realigned. “I know I committed to Friday but the complexity in the reporting system was greater than I anticipated. I understand they are urgently needed but I will need until Tuesday to deliver a high-quality product that will avoid unnecessary rework, which is what we both want.”

Be the leader that actively makes agreements with your team and keeps them with discipline. High performing teams have a strong trust level that is built by delivering on these behaviours in a consistent manner.

4. Appropriately Include Others (Including/Collaboration dimension)

Finance is performed at a high level when collaboration excellence is achieved. The NASA 4D core leadership behaviour to help achieve this excellence is to not over or under include key stakeholders: your team, business partners, or cross functional support teams (like operations and HR). Over inclusion drains the energy from people that are already very busy and feel it is a waste of their time to be included. There are fundamental tasks that need to be delivered and adding any time wasters to your team’s calendars is de-motivational and distracting. Make sure meetings are run for a specific intent and have the proper attendance. Make sure you don’t have three people on the same team attending a meeting where one would suffice. Over inclusion also applies to emails. Don’t Cc everyone you know on every message. Be purposeful with your email distribution. How draining is it for you to sit with 200 unread emails at the end of a long workday? What if 100 of those are the dreaded FYI (when you already knew what was going on). Make sure you don’t fill calendars and inboxes of your team and business partners unless you are very intent on their inclusion.

Under inclusion can be just as damaging to your team dynamics, especially in Finance. A critical aspect of being a good business partner is having a seat at the leadership table across all levels of the organization. Do not exclude your team from attending important meetings, or from important strategic conversations with the Business. Your team are capable of providing meaningful contributions to these and, as well, they offer your team important opportunities for exposure, partnership building, and personal growth. Finance professionals battle enough to build out their business partnering strategy and execute on it, make sure you enable this and not exclude your team from the important discussions. I’ve seen scenarios where the team felt blindsided by changes that should have been communicated earlier. This under inclusion scenario leads to a lack of trust and often results in teams misfiring on their execution. People have a deep emotional need to feel included, in Finance this translates to the important part of the roles that can’t be automated.

Ensure you’ve included the entire team on organizational strategy, business transformation, growth initiatives, relationship alignment and other important items that define value for the Finance profession.

5. Be 100% Committed (Visioning/Strategy dimension)

For Finance teams this area is a tricky balance between your core Finance responsibilities and your business partnering skills. The CFO never wants you to go rogue and become so committed to your business partner’s commission cheques that you’ve forgotten your number one responsibility is being a strategic fiduciary advisor that drives profitable growth. This doesn’t mean approving every deal the Sales teams pressure you into approving by asking if you are a “team player”. If these deals hurt the financial viability of the company, then you’ve made the right decision and it’s back on the sales leaders to change behaviour. Being a focused and committed Finance professional really comes down to making decisions that help the company while helping others succeed in the process. When an ugly deal is put on your desk, go work with the Sales leader on the common ground that keeps the CFO and CEO both happy. You will never see a misalignment between the CEO and CFO in companies that are successful.

One of your critical goals is to spread this alignment throughout all levels of the organization. As a leader in the company make sure you make decisions and commit to the strategy behind them. You can always pivot your strategy but stay 100% committed and focused until new information is presented to force the pivot. This behaviour is the blue visioning area for a reason. The organization can’t follow an uncommitted leader who changes their mind often. The organization won’t jump over the proverbial wall to follow a leader that has led them astray too many times before. Commit and shift to execution mode and stay focused on the end goal when times get tough.

Being 100% committed is a critical Finance behaviour that aligns you to the business strategy that you helped develop. It elevates your value as you help the business stay focused on the vision that the leadership team agreed would best enable success.

6. Express Reality-based Optimism/ Addressing Unfortunate Realities (Visioning/Strategy dimension)

When things are going well for Finance teams it’s great to focus on reality-based optimism. Creating and driving growth plans that are grounded in reality is a great leadership trait in Finance. Finance is relied upon to provide the reality-based expertise on ROI calculations that help enable Marketing and Sales strategies. Optimism is needed for a growth, reality-based optimism is needed for profitable growth. You know your role in Finance is to ground the strategies in reality as there are unlimited wants but limited means. You need to spend your investment budget wisely. You need to ensure you have optimal resources for profitable growth.

Expressing reality-based optimism is a core competency for Finance leaders as it helps take wonderfully creative visions and turn them into realistic strategies that the organization can profit from.

What better time than 2020 to talk about addressing unfortunate realities. Every business was challenged this year like never before. Leadership was shown by Finance leaders that addressed the situation head on and didn’t sit back hoping things were different. Like never before Finance was relied upon to run multiple scenarios as the impact of the unfortunate realities of 2020 unfolded. There are unfortunate realities that happen to a business outside of a global pandemic year that Finance needs to help support as well. How quickly do you pivot out of a product that unfortunately is underperforming? Which areas should you pull investments from to be able to invest elsewhere? How is the competition beating you and what are the options you have to respond? The one thing you can’t do is let unfortunate realities hit your business and act as a bystander in reactive mode.

Proactively addressing unfortunate realities is a critical skill that successful Finance leaders can elevate their impact to the business by executing well.

7. Clarify Roles, Accountability and Authority (Directing/Execution dimension)

The core responsibilities in Finance are in the next two NASA 4D leadership behaviours. Finance needs to lead in the direction and execution of the vision and strategy that the organization has committed to. Clarifying roles, accountability and authority as a behaviour is all about clarity. Leaders need to make sure that their teams understand their role and how it impacts the success of the organization. This goes further than a job description as people need to understand their responsibilities and clarity of ownership of deliverables. With this clarity the entire team can understand exactly what they are accountable for. Accountable leadership is a differentiator. It separates exceptional leaders from those that take on a victim mentality when things don’t go their way. You build trust with your team as well when you take full accountability for the organization that you lead. Regardless of the business results, ensure accountability is at the core of your leadership style. Clarifying authority isn’t only about reporting lines and showing who is at the top of an org chart. Authority can be applied to processes which leads right back to accountability. Authority is very important cross functionally to ensure there is understanding in other areas where finance has the authority to make approval decisions.

Clarity of this authority in Finance across the leaders of Sales, Operations, Marketing, will lead to strong leadership across the organization.

8. Resist Blaming or Complaining (Directing/Execution dimension)

This NASA 4D leadership behaviour is critically connected to accountability. Blaming others when things go wrong is not showing strength as an accountable leader. Do not blame your team for missing deadlines. Don’t blame the sales organization for missing the revenue targets. Don’t blame anybody when losing a critical deal that you were involved in. Take accountability for what happens in the business under your leadership. You will gain trust and respect for doing so. Blaming others regularly will lead to a toxic culture nine times out of ten.

Complaining is another sign that you are not taking accountability as a leader, and in turn, is another behaviour that needs to be avoided. Complaining is a victim mindset that leads the organization towards toxic behaviours. When it’s a repetitive behaviour, it can take Finance out of a position of leadership. One of the greatest aspects of 4D is the available corrective measures that you can apply to enable the desired behaviour. Turn blaming and complaining into a request. Are you not happy with the resources you have on your team? Make a request. Disappointed in growth targets handed down by corporate? Make a request for investments that will enable success.

Be a great leader- resist blaming and take accountability; turn complaints into requests.

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