TLP175: Leadership at Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works


Manage episode 245674481 series 1888705
By Jan Rutherford and Jim Vaselopulos, Jan Rutherford, Jim Vaselopulos, and Experts on leadership development. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Steve Justice, COO of the To the Stars Academy and Former Director of Advanced Systems at Lockheed Martin’s esteemed Skunk Works, shares what it takes to lead projects when the specifications challenge the laws of physics, the stakes are literally life and death, and the nation’s national security is on the line. Steve shares what it takes to develop cutting edge technology by studying the past, and setting team expectations that challenges conventional assumptions. He also describes the mission behind To The Stars Academy, and why “revolutionary is too mild a word.”

~~~~~ ~~~~~

The Leadership Podcast is proud to announce a new initiative with thoughtLEADERS to provide very short podcasts called “chalk talks.” They’re “bitesize” hacks on common (but challenging) leadership issues.

You can only access the Chalk Talks by subscribing to our mailing list at The Leadership Podcast.

~~~~~ ~~~~~

Key Takeaways

[1:44] Steve can’t talk about a lot of the work he did, but he did help develop the F-22 Raptor (the coolest plane you can ever see at an air show). You will also see his name on the patent for the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile.

[4:22] With high stakes projects, Steve had to make sure expectations were clearly stated before his team even began to work. When Steve was at Skunk Works, the programs he asked his bosses for were the ones that had a low probability of success.

[7:30] Writing down the operating rules and expectations presents it in a different context than just speaking it.

[9:02] Steve asks a lot of questions, but explains to his team the reasons behind it. It typically breaks down into 5 reasons:

  1. Asked an earlier question, but it wasn’t answered yet.
  2. Didn’t understand what you said, looking for clarification.
  3. This is new, and I’m asking questions to understand the answer - and the context.
  4. I’m educating other people in the room.
  5. I am testing your conviction.

[12:27] Values such as precision, clarity, focus, and learning from mistakes really matter.

[16:28] Steve is the Aerospace Division Director at To the Stars Academy, and leads the efforts of developing advanced craft using revolutionary technologies that go beyond capabilities most can only imagine.

[22:28] Great leaders think beyond what is in front of them and dig for answers considering multiple perspectives.

[28:51] Steve was one of the Skunk Works historians, and it’s helped him think about futuristic realities.

[33:38] Three important qualities of a leader:

  1. Curiosity and inquisitiveness.
  2. Do what they say they are going to do.
  3. Strong character.

[42:06] We all have failings, but recognizing and learning from them is the key.

[48:17} Two pieces of advice:

  1. “It’s amazing what you can accomplish when no one cares who gets the credit.” - Ronald Reagan

  • Stand in the future to solve today’s problems.

Strategic Partner

Beyond the Uniform offers over 300 free episodes to help military Veterans succeed in their civilian career. This includes overviews of potential career paths, deep dives on necessary skills to succeed, and reviews of other free services that support the military Veteran community. You can find more info at

Quotable Quotes

  • Stand in the future to solve today’s problems.
  • “As a leader, your success is 100% dependent on how your team does.”
  • “As a leader, you are on 24/7.”
  • “Sitting down with a team and defining expectations is critical.”
  • “I love proving people wrong.”
  • “I’m always amazed by the dramatic amount of wonder and inquisitiveness some people can have, and the very small box other people want to live in.”

Lockheed Martin

To the Stars Academy

Kelly Johnson

The Matrix


Instagram: @WeStudyLeaders

LinkedIn: @TheLeadershipPodcast

Facebook: @westudyleaders

Twitter: @westudyleaders

Website: The Leadership Podcast

195 episodes