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Why living on Mars is not out of this world

As a school kid, I remember a visit to the then named Powerhouse Museum in Sydney and falling in love with the rover searching for life on Mars. Trapped behind the glass I would follow its movements across the recreated red Martian terrain looking for any signs and wonder what if?

But it’s no longer a question about potential life. The reality is we – humans – will live on Mars.

Now before you think I have fallen into some sort of binge-star trek-haze, you should check out Elon Musk. This man who heads up SpaceX has a big vision for us to be a spacefaring civilisation with more than a million people living on Mars.

For most of us, this would seem a stretch. However, what Simon Sinek pointed out in his recent Start with Why Leadership Forum in Sydney was that visionaries like Musk talk in the present. He’s created a narrative that enables people to imagine themselves there. It’s not if, it’s when.

So according to Musk, the first of us up there will need to be good at digging beneath the surface and dredging up buried ice. That is what will supply us with precious water to make the cryo-methane propellant that will power the whole enterprise (ok – he had me up until the cryo-methane part!).

The point – as Sinek so eloquently pointed out – is that leaders need to help their people visualise where they’re heading, painting a vivid picture of what it looks and feels like. They need to start with the WHY – the purpose or cause – and importantly devote time and energy to reinforcing this so that people believe and trust you.

And building this trust relies on empathy, making people feel you care about them as human beings. It relies on consistently practising and demonstrating it. “It’s not the big stuff, it’s the accumulation of little acts,” as Sinek said. “It’s about popping your head in the door and saying well done rather than ticking the box with an email. Or keeping the lift door open when you hear those racing footsteps rather than letting it slide as you text on your phone.”

For Sinek, it’s up to leaders to set the right conditions so that people feel safe and valued, and that’s when trust will thrive. This relies on putting others’ interests ahead of your own, and being vulnerable, getting comfortable with the fact that you may not have all the answers. But if you know your WHY, and always come back to it, then you’ll have people follow you to the moon and back.