Leadership in action: Augustine shares insights from pioneering career

By Hilary Parker
October 20, 2006

Norman AugustineGreat leaders help create other great leaders, Norman Augustine ’57 *59 told a Princeton audience Oct. 19 as he did just that, sharing his insights on leadership to inaugurate the engineering school’s “Leadership in a Technological World” lecture series.

Augustine, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Lockheed Martin Corp. with leadership experience in industry, academia, government and the non-profit world, earned his bachelors and masters degrees in aeronautical engineering from Princeton.  Calling him a leader who embodies Princeton’s informal motto, “in the nation’s service and the service of all nations,” Dean of Engineering H. Vincent Poor said Augustine was the perfect choice to kick-off the new series, which is sponsored by the Center for Innovation in Engineering Education.

“The main goal of the center is to educate leaders, both engineers and non-engineers, who can lead what is becoming increasingly a technological world,” Poor said.

Using positive and negative examples to illustrate twelve necessary “ingredients” for true leadership, Augustine touched on everything from the Boston Celtics basketball team to a fatal decision that led to the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster.  Attributes including integrity, vision, courage and selflessness come together in diverse combinations in leaders who have a positive impact on the world, he said.

“You don’t necessarily know (great leadership) when you see it in advance, but you’ll sure recognize it when you see it in action” he said, humorously pointing to a 1978 photograph of Microsoft Corp.’s founders, which included a boyish looking Bill Gates.

Humor may have peppered his talk, but Augustine was serious as he discussed the challenges, particularly ethical ones, faced by leaders in today’s world. Honesty is always the best policy, he said, even when it has short-term negative repercussions. He told of a time at Lockheed when he received an anonymous envelope containing a competing company’s upcoming bid for a major contract; he informed the competitor and refused to alter his own bid, which ultimately lost.

People always face difficult decisions with incomplete information and conflicting advice, he said. Whether they become great leaders depends on how they rely on their own skills, and the talents of others, to rise to the occasion.

“Often, the difference between victory and defeat is very small,” Augustine said.

The lecture series continues at 5 p.m. on Dec. 5 with a talk by David Crane ’81, president and chief executive officer of NRG Energy Inc.