Leadership Lessons From Apollo 13


You might be surprised to know you can learn valuable leadership lessons from watching the Apollo 13 movie popping up on various cable channels these days. Wanting success did not get this spacecraft back to earth. True leaders have strategies they employ to make sure failure, as they say in the movie, is not an option.

The first step is, of course, communicating that you have a problem in the first place and “Houston, we have a problem” did just that. Let’s continue our journey to find out what else the Apollo 13 movie can teach us about leadership:

o Don’t Wait to Call in Your Support Team. Build a back-up support team into your project. At the first sign of trouble, ask for help. Call them up; get them out of bed just like in the movie. Think of your support team as understudies for the project. They know what you know.

o Work the Problem. Defining the problem is the hardest part of problem solving. They didn’t solve part of the problem with the spacecraft and then congratulate themselves–this is common and usually creates additional work. Don’t make the problem worse by guessing what is wrong.

o Know When to Cut Your Losses. Listen to the experts on your team. It didn’t take much time to decide they weren’t going to moon. They didn’t dwell on it. They kept going; and so should you.

o Stay Calm. In the movie, multiple people write down coordinates, check them and report results to the leadership. They remain calm despite the life-and-death situation. If they could do this on Apollo 13, you can do it at your office.

o Keep Communication Avenues Open. In the film, one character turns off his television and takes his phone off the hook, costing valuable time and input in solving the crisis. Make sure you can get in touch with people on your team. Create a policy if you must.

o Work with What You Have—Not What You Wish For. Many leadership teams waste valuable time and effort discussing what could have been. Remorse, like other regrets, accomplishes nothing. In the movie, one team dumps actual items they have to work with in the spacecraft to correct oxygen levels on a table. Enough said.

o Be Creative. In the movie, one character despairs at how the items on the table can solve the oxygen problem–they weren’t designed for this, he declares. The leader responds: “I don’t care what it was designed to do. I care what it can do.”

o Never Stop Practicing. Simulate success at every opportunity. Try it out. In the movie, the astronaut on the ground works the test chamber until the process is successful. Test your theories.

o Stick to Tried-and-True Procedures. Don’t throw everything out the window. You probably had good reason to come up with your procedures. They worked for a reason, and will do so again.

o Restate Your Vision. Leaders need to remind people why the work needs to be done in both positive–and sometimes dramatic terms.

When Apollo 13 occurred, America was facing its first serious space disaster. It didn’t happen. The team leader told them it wouldn’t–inspiring success.

Source by Darrell L. Browning

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