10 Leadership Lessons From Apollo 13

Leadership Lessons From Apollo 13

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

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

  1. Don’t Wait to Call in Your Support Team. Build a back-up maintenance team into your project. At the first sign of struggle, ask for help. Call them up; get them out of bed just like in the movie. Think of your support team as substitutes for the project. They know what you know.
  2. Work the Puzzle. Defining the problem is the most difficult part of problem-solving. They didn’t solve part of the puzzle with the spacecraft and then praise themselves–this is common and usually creates additional work. Don’t make the problem worse by guessing what is incorrect.
  3. Know When to Cut Your Losses. Listen to the specialists on your team. It didn’t take much time to decide they weren’t going to the moon. They didn’t stay on it. They kept going; and so should you.
  4. Stay Patient. In the movie, multiple people write down coordinates, check them, and communicate 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 job.
  5. Keep Communication Avenues Open. In the film, one actor turns off his television and takes his phone off the hook, costing precious time and input in solving the crisis. Make sure you can get in touch with people on your team. Create a plan if you must.
  6. Work with What You Have—Not What You Wish For. Many leadership teams spend valuable time and effort in examining what could have been. Shame, like other regrets, achieves nothing. In the movie, one team dumps actual items they have to work within the spacecraft to correct oxygen levels on a table. Enough said.
  7. Be Artistic. In the movie, one character despairs at how the items on the table can solve the oxygen problem–they weren’t meant for this, he declares. The leader responds: “I don’t care what it was designed to do. I care what it can do.”
  8. Never Stop Training. Simulate success at every opportunity. Try it out. In the movie, the astronaut on the groundworks the test chamber until the process is successful. Test your theories.
  9. 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.
  10. Restate Your Idea. Leaders need to tell people why the work needs to be done in both positive–and sometimes climactic terms.

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