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Article - Failure is not an option
Comparisons in the Struggles of the Apollo 13 Mission and Organizational Leadership
"There are three kinds of people in the world," said James Lovell, the commander of Apollo 13 who - along with
fellow crew members - came close to losing his life during the historic lunar mission, "Those who make things
happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened. Gene Kranz is the one who
makes things happen."
Who is Gene Kranz? He was the flight director at Mission Control during the flight of Apollo 13. Fifty-five hours
into the Apollo 13 mission, James Lovell uttered the famous words, "Houston, we've had a problem here," and a
life and death struggle began. Apollo 13 was three-quarters of the way to the moon when an explosion in an
oxygen tank damaged the command module's fuel cells - its main source of power.
At Mission Control an intense debate began. At issue was whether to abort the mission by jettisoning the lunar
module and returning to Earth using the damaged engines, or whether to continue to the moon, and use lunar
gravity and the lunar module engines to facilitate the return journey to Earth.
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The decision was made to use lunar gravity for the return trip. But a major obstacle remained. The fuel cell had less than two days of electrical power
remaining and the journey back to Earth would take four and a half days. The survival of the Apollo 13 crew depended upon maximizing the life of the fuel
cells. Shutting down the command module minimized the electrical load. Ken Mattingly, working in the command module simulator in Houston, formulated
a start-up sequence that allowed for the powering up of the command module using the remaining limited power. It was during the management of this
potentially tragic mission that Gene Kranz inspired the Mission Control team with the proclamation, "Failure is not an option."
Kranz and the Apollo 13 mission teach us important lessons for managing difficult situations. With all the technological wizardry at NASA, it was not the
state of the art equipment that brought the three crew members of Apollo 13 home safely - it was a team of dedicated individuals committed to a common
theme: "Failure is not an option."
Concerns for the adequacy of the facility in which the NASA team worked was not used as a reason for the possible failure of the mission. Failure was not
The equipment failures, the damage spacecraft, the lack of oxygen and water were not used as a reason for the possible failure of the mission. Failure was
not an option.
The fact that individuals within the group had differing opinions on the best way in which to proceed in bringing the crew home was not used as a reason
for the possible failure of the mission. Failure was not an option.
The fact that the course of action chosen meant that the ship would have only two days of power during a return trip that would take four and a half days
was not used as a reason for the possible failure of the mission. Failure was not an option.
Kranz and his team faced facility challenges, equipment problems, supply shortages, differences of opinions, and time constraints that seemed impossible
to overcome. Sound familiar?
Your leadership team is Mission Control for the crew of your organization. You face similar challenges as were faced by Kranz and the Apollo 13 crew. The
question is how are you going to respond to those challenges? Are you going to continue to look for excuses as to why you may fail? Are you going to
complain about external forces of the economy, and governmental policy; or internal force of facility obstacles, personnel, equipment, supply shortages,
differences of opinions, and time constraints? Or are you going to lay down the excuses and commit to the proclamation that Failure is not an option.
You can succeed, if you direct your focus upon the fact that Failure is not an option. You can accomplish the results you need, facing the difficult tasks that
are ahead of you, if you hold sacred that Failure is not an option.
Are you ready to achieve the result you want? Let's begin today!
Article - Leadership 2.0
There is a story that on President Reagan’s desk there was this quote: “It is
amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”
I had the same quote framed over my desk for the year that I had to deal
with an incompetent boss. He was well liked by our client. I, and other
team members, remained quiet as this individual took credit for our work.
Our contract was on the line and we were afraid that if the client learned
of this manager’s incompetency we would all be fired!
It was one of the most stressful periods of my career. Team morale was low
(eventually one of the top performers left), and team productivity was
drained as everyone worked to cover this manager’s incompetency. In the
end, however, the team pulled together to saved the contract and this
manager was dismissed.
I had learned a valuable lesson: how truly not to care who got the credit. Obviously, that manager was not a Leadership 2.0 leader. So, why was the client
so enamoured with him? On reflection, that manager’s success and down fall were do to two obsolete leadership styles: the first held by the client and the
second held by the manager. To read more, click here
Cornell Colbert, CMQ/OE, LBC
Principal Consultant and Owner of
Colbert Seminars, LLC. He has over 30
years of practical business, coaching and
training experience. Mr. Colbert is a
certified manager of quality and
organizational excellence, is LEAN
bronze certified and is a certified
instructor and registered proctor for the
National restaurant Association ServSafe
Food Protection Manager Examination.
To learn more about Cornell, click here.
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