The date was Saturday, April 11, 1970, the time 13:13 CST. The event to take place was to be one of NASA’s finest hours; the launch of Apollo 13. Apollo 13 was supposed to land in the Fra Mauro area of the moon. However, an explosion on board forced the crew to circle the moon without landing.
The first two days the crew ran into a couple of minor surprises, but generally Apollo 13 was looking like the smoothest flight of the program. At 46 hours, 43 minutes Joe Kerwin, the CapCom on duty, said, "The spacecraft is in real good shape as far as we are concerned.”
At 55 hours, 46 minutes, the crew finished a 49-minute TV broadcast showing how comfortably they lived and worked in weightlessness. Nine minutes later, oxygen tank No. 2 blew up, causing the No. 1 tank to also fail. The explosion came in the form of a sharp bang and vibration. Next, the warning lights indicated the loss of two of Apollo 13's three fuel cells, which were the spacecrafts prime source of electricity.
Then, the crew aboard the spaceship, and the entire NASA staff spent the next 5 Days, 22 hours, 54 min, 41 seconds working to get the three-man crew back to earth.
In the midst of this disaster this team of NASA employees demonstrated some leadership lessons that you can apply to your business (and life) today.
1. You must be committed regardless – It has been said, “Teamwork is what makes the dream work.” A group of people working as one will usually get the job done and come out on top. This team of NASA employees couldn’t be any more diverse. Upon reviewing the team you see they are different in every way but one. They were different in age, education, experience, and agenda. But they all were committed to getting that spaceship back to earth in one piece and the crew back alive. Each team member demonstrated 100% commitment to his/her area of responsibility. In a time of disaster or uncertainty you simply don’t have time for diversions showing up in the form of team members trying to fulfill their own selfish agendas.
- Leadership lesson: Refuse to lose and work as a team.
2. You must be willing to do what has never been done before – CapCom, the person responsible for the success of the mission, had to keep his staff believing they would not lose those astronauts aboard Apollo 13. His commitment was tested a few different times when his top leaders, letting human nature get the better of them, began to talk about the odds of getting those men back alive. As soon as he quickly put an end to this talk, his leadership skills were again tested with challenges such as the lack of power, oxygen, or water aboard the spaceship. As human beings it is easy for us to get comfortable and to settle for “what we have always done.” For your business to excel past all others you must be willing to think outside the box.
- Leadership lesson: Thinking outside the box.
3. You must be willing to look at your job and business in a totally new way. NASA had to look at space flight, specifically this flight, in a totally new way. Not being willing would have ended in the death of those three astronauts. It is certain that your practice (even your life) will face challenges this year. How you view these challenges will determine your future success. While at the same time, how you view your business (the values, vision, and mission) will determine its success.
- Leadership lesson: Your focus must be flexible in order to reach your preferred future
Lesson Handout - to help you move forward in your business