March 8, 2021

The Nexus of Space, Team of Teams Culture, and Leadership

Our Co-founder & CEO Melanie Stricklan gets personal and shares her early love for space, education and career with the Air Force, leadership style & more.

My Early Love for Space

As a little girl growing up in rural Texas, I was inspired by the night sky. Few places on Earth are as dark as those pristine skies where the Milky Way is clearly visible on most nights. That view inspired me to get my own telescope, visit observatories, and even log satellites in my Trapper Keeper as they flew across the wide-open West Texas night skies.

Upon learning about the U.S. space program—as crazy as it might sound—I marched off to the public library, looked up every NASA center address, and wrote a letter to each location expressing a keen interest in the space program and their astronauts. I began receiving packages just a few weeks after I mailed the letters. First from Goddard, then Johnson, then Cape Canaveral. The packages contained full-color brochures, information, and even some 8 by 10 portraits of astronauts in training. I couldn’t believe it! I hung these treasures on my bedroom wall where they remained for years. I was hooked.

Soon after, a devastating event made me realize that becoming an astronaut was about much more than doing something immensely cool and personally rewarding: it was, at the heart of it all, about service.

The year was 1986. I was in my fifth grade classroom when the news was confirmed that the space shuttle Challenger had exploded shortly after takeoff. I was crushed. I had been following this mission from the beginning, and through that unspeakable loss, I felt like I understood the meaning of service for the first time. Sharon Christa McAuliffe and the six other crew members gave their lives for the betterment of our nation, the advancement of our space program, and ultimately to serve the cause of global knowledge, unity, and progress.

Those men and women did something great with their lives—something that served a cause bigger than themselves—and perhaps they were partly responsible for the inspiration that led me to serve.

A Cultural Path to Servant Leadership

I joined the United States Air Force to serve and because I knew there was no better organization to be a part of to follow my passion for flight and space. I have zero regrets! The Air Force shaped me into who I am today over an amazing 21-year journey. What I got to see and do as part of our nation’s Air Force was nothing short of extraordinary: from flying as an enlisted aircrew member onboard a surveillance aircraft to commissioning to the officer ranks and commanding experimental space missions.

It was through these experiences that I learned mission-driven teams are unstoppable. During my flying days, junior Airmen were trained to speak more assertively and captains less forcefully during our missions, turning vertical command-and-control relationships into flexible, multidirectional, communicative networks with an emphasis on trust and purpose. It is important to know that although the Air Force is a highly-structured, hierarchical military organization, the minute we stepped onto our jet, that aircrew of unique people with different ranks and positions, from front to back, turned into a flat, one-dimensional, all-encompassing, engaged union of cross-functional stakeholders. We were truly a Team of Teams with one goal: complete the mission - alive!

Sure, there were plenty of checklists and flight-safety rules, whether in-flight or on the ground-operating orbiting spacecraft, but I was offered the opportunity to learn by doing–to be who I was as an Airman and as a leader by exploring who I could be. I certainly fell over time and time again; yet upon rising each time, I can say I was a little smarter, a little more precise, and perhaps more compassionate and patient.

My Air Force career was a dream job and the nexus of my two loves: space and aviation. I was a typical little girl who grew up in a tiny town in the middle of West Texas, infatuated with airplanes and space, who ultimately saw all her dreams come true, and who was cultivated by world class leaders who saw lots of potential. To those leaders, I owe the greatest share of gratitude for my professional development– these were men and women who truly fostered both the education and career development of their Airmen. They truly took care of their people.

Self-discipline, hard work, and organization are pillars to my success, and I also attribute much of that to my family who throughout my life have encouraged me to set goals, chase dreams, and take risks. Perhaps more importantly, my family taught me the importance of faith, family, and good friends. This worldview made me appreciate putting the needs of others ahead of my own, and to always be kind to everyone.

Instilling Servant Leadership at Slingshot

I am proud to be a leader built by the United States Air Force, which produces world-class leaders through the principles of servant leadership. Servant Leadership and the Team of Teams strategy are embedded in the way I lead and will continue to influence how I lead Slingshot in my new role as CEO.

My most important near-term objective is to achieve maximum alignment across the entire company as we get laser-focused on Space. This starts with ensuring our overall vision and mission of the company are crystal clear, and that our purpose is clearly and continually communicated to all stakeholders. This vision must relate to our team members, inspire them, and motivate them to action. In my experience in the Air Force, teams were most effective when we were purpose-driven and felt we shared a common mission. That is the goal here as well.

It is very important to me that we foster a healthy, effective, and innovative culture where people thrive on trust and feel engaged. This begins with recruiting, hiring, and retaining the very best talent for our company. I believe continual communication and candor will shape the best working environment where team members can clearly understand where they fit in the big picture, helping our organization to prioritize tasks to align with Slingshot Aerospace’s greater mission.

Culture, like gravity, is a powerful but unseen force. Unlike gravity, culture must be deliberately cultivated and maintained or it will naturally develop on its own–potentially in a way that is counter-productive. As we achieve greater alignment around our vision, mission, purpose, and goals, we will continue to gain massive dividends in our gravitational constant: culture. I am happy and honored to be building an unstoppable team with such an inspiring vision and important mission!

Slingshot Aerospace's Vision

It is our vision to chart a new course for humanity by building technologies and awareness to ensure space remains a safe and secure gateway of discovery, and continues to be a core tenet of our global economy for generations to come.

Slingshot Aerospace will play a pivotal role in shaping new frontiers in the global economy as we continue to raise space sustainability awareness, and deliver dynamic virtual environments and decision intelligence tools that empower our customers with safer designs, operations, and services. We aim to contribute to international efforts to protect the vitality and sustainability of our space domain.

Whether you’re a valued customer, trusted partner, fellow Slingshooter, or someone who has also been inspired by the night skies since childhood, I am delighted to be on this journey with you. We can bring humanity closer together through space, and I hope that you are as motivated as I am to promote and enhance space sustainability.

Ad Astra,
Melanie Stricklan