Michael L. Coats

Michael L. Coats
Center Director, NANA- Johnson Space Center

Location: Houston, Texas
Website: www.nasa.gov/centers/johnson/home/
Primary Business: Aerospace
Employees: 3,200

Imaginative Solutions to Our Challenges

In my experience, when we include people with different perspectives, backgrounds, and opinions, we generate more imaginative solutions to our challenges. As a member of the astronaut class of 1978 (which was the first class that included women and minorities), I was intrigued by the wonderfully creative and innovative solutions to early shuttle crew issues that we developed. Our creativity was driven by the differences of opinion and diverse perspectives that our respective professional training provided. We had military pilots, scientists, engineers, medical doctors and folks from academia. As a pilot, I noticed that regardless of race or gender, the pilots tended to think along similar lines. The same was true for each of the other groups—their unique professional training guided them to approach problems in a similar fashion. I noticed that our diverse group proposed inventive answers that the pilots alone never would have considered—plus the interaction and brainstorming was enjoyable.

After serving as an astronaut for 13 years, I spent another 14 years in the private sector. My time in industry was wonderful, but in late 2005 I was delighted to return to NASA as the Director of Johnson Space Center (JSC). In 2007, in an effort to enhance collaboration, creativity and innovation, as well as apply lessons learned from industry, I brought together a group of senior leaders to serve as the guiding coalition for diversity at JSC. Today we are known as the Inclusion and Innovation (I&I) Council—a name that reflects the business imperative. As council chair, I’ve led a number of benchmarking activities with several leading organizations. We’ve recently initiated Employee Resource Groups to enhance employee commitment and developed a ‘Status Card’ tool to encourage management accountability for I&I—both initiatives were based upon best practices we learned from benchmarking.

While senior leadership is important to our efforts, we realize that employee involvement is essential to success. Therefore, we’ve also established numerous ad hoc I&I employee engagement teams. Each team is purposely assembled to include people with diverse backgrounds, skills and perspectives. The teams have been highly successful, in fact several recommendations, including enhancements to both our formal and informal Mentoring programs and our Award and Recognition program have flowed from our employee teams.

I am a firm believer in the power of diversity, which is why we are committed to inclusion and innovation in everything we do at JSC.

Education: BS, United States Naval Academy; MS, George Washington University; MS, U.S. Naval Postgraduate School
First Job: Delivering newspapers
What I’m Reading: Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin
My Philosophy: Point the way, find a way, and get out of the way
Best Advice: Put family first, including time for yourself, success follows.
Fsmily: Wife, Diane; two grown children, a daughter and a son; twin granddaughters
Interests: Family, sports, history
Favorite Charity: Alzheimer’s Association