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Lessons from great leaders, Lovell, Kranz and Liebergot #failureisnotanoption

No alt text provided for this image"Failure is not an option" and "Houston, we have a problem" are phrases from the movie Apollo 13 (one of my greatest movies ever, review it here). Lovell, Kranz and Liebergot have a close association to the Apollo programme, especially Apollo 13, and these great leaders are central to the story of "Failure is not an option."

  • Lovell is the spacecraft commander
  • Kranz is the flight director
  • Liebergot is Apollo EECOM

The following provides great insight into the Apollo 13 flight.

The leadership displayed during the Apollo 13 flight is commendable. It is also the perfect example of virtual teams. Kranz, in charge of flight operations in Houston, and Lovell, commander of the lunar mission are separated by thousands of miles of space. They were required to display their leadership skills, especially those of communication, when an explosion occurs on the Apollo 13 spacecraft. Ably assisted by Liebergot, and through teamwork, ingenuity, and rational process these leaders solve a nearly impossible problem.

Between them they maintain control in a chaotic situation which inspires confidence among the group. Although leaders desire loyalty and passion, it is important to secure their group's confidence first. Additionally, below are the lessons from these three great leaders and the examples:

  • Effective and efficient communications. Even as chaos reigns in Houston, Krantz asks the Mission Control team to "Work the Problem." He then listened to the experts report in on their areas of the mission. Effective communications set the stage for a successful recovery. Krantz says that "Failure is not an option" and Lovell told his flight crew "I intend to go home." Clear precise communications are required in certain situations, not rambling debate.
  • Operational proficiency. When the accident happened Krantz rely on the skills and expertise of his technicians while Lovell initiates actions in the spacecraft. Proficiency is required, especially in a highly technical environment.
  • Conflict management. Lovell display exceptional leadership to deal with stress and conflict in the LEM. Team members are less prone to conflict when they are occupied solving problems such as the Co2 challenge but the best example is when Kranz and Lovell disconnect the medical sensors when the medical team creates conflict.
  • Building a team.. Lovell agrees with Mattingly to practice the docking procedure again after three hours of practice. Leaders build a strong team to make critical decisions.
  • Vision. JFK’s vision was the one that inspired the United States and one that underpinned the Apollo programme: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth." Lovell had a simple vision "Columbus, Lindberg, and Armstrong; it is not a miracle for man to walk on the moon, we just decided to go."
  • Decision making and problem solving. Right after the explosion Krantz’s asks Mission Control "What do we have on the spacecraft that’s good?" Good leaders work with what they have, not with what they do not.
  • Creativity and innovation. Apollo 13 is the essence of creativity. The LEM was designed to act as a vehicle to land on the moon but during the flight is was used as a deep space lifeboat. Great leaders can re-purpose what they have around them. All you need to do is look, and be able to do the same.

* This article was published over on LinkedIn: Lessons from great leaders, Lovell, Kranz and Liebergot #failureisnotanoption


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