When a good friend of mine took a new job his father gave him some good advice, “Be sure to stay for three years.” Three years, I thought, sounded forever. In looking back at the friends tenure in the job for three years, I can see the benefit. He was able to personally and professionally grow into the job, gain a lot of support from his stakeholders, redirect the organization, provide focus, and then execute. He took the organization out of the red and left it in a very stable position.
The attraction of a new job and an adventure is completely intoxicating. The honeymoon, however, of a new job with new opportunities can short lived. You are faced with people, processes, and entrenched world views. The challenges are similar whether you are in government, non-profit, or for profit organizations. The larger the organization, the greater the institutional memory and momentum to remain in status quo.
I have been with NASA for seven of the last eleven years, and have left three times already. I am looking back at 3.5 years with roughly similar challenges within the same office. It has been a torrid tenure with grand perspective and opportunity in one conversation juxtaposed to twisted frustration in the next.
I spent four days in DC last week having meetings all over NASA Headquarters and at OSTP, USAID, State Department, and the World Bank. This visit was quite different from the one only three months ago, as the ambiance shifted away from a honeymoon-love and more into frustrated-realism. With a presidency behind leading change and bureaucracies designed to stay that same, leaders of all Executive Branch agencies are at the precipice of progress. However, this is where individuals rise to the occasion. Times like now are when leaders are born. I look forward to the next three years.