Leading In The Face Of Disaster

By: Jeff Earlywine

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. 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 also to fail. The message 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 we can apply to our organizations (and lives) 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 crisis 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.

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 organization to excel past all others you must be willing to think outside the box. One such organization is the Natural Resource Network (NRN). This small organization is taking the nation by storm revolutionizing the small home-business concept. It used to be that if you wanted a small home-business to make a few extra dollars you had to get a "kit" and hit the road selling some product to every relative, friend, and enemy you could find. Since most people don't enjoy this type of selling NRN is developing a way to have professional marketing agencies obtain customers for you. Your part is then to service that customer with the goods and services they need and want.

- Leadership lesson: Thinking outside the box.

3. You must be willing to look at your job and organization 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 organization (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 organization (the values, vision, and mission) will determine its success.

- Leadership lesson: Your focus must be flexible in order to have your preferred future

Next month's edition of Footprints and Monuments will explore in detail what it means to have a committed team that refuses to lose, a team that constantly thinks outside the box, with a focus on a preferred future.


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