Apollo 13- Leadership during a crisis
Lessons learned from Gene Kranz
Every employee of NASA should known the tragic event of Apollo 13; At that time in 1970 the three astronauts James Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert had to abort their mission to flight to the moon due to an explosion of an oxygen tank. They had to fight against, carbon dioxide, coldness, a lack of energy and the almost certain death. Despite of a distance of 205,000 miles the three men made it back to earth alive in the Lunar Module Aquarius (Lovell et al. 2006). This was only possible with the help of the Mission Control and the Flight Director Gene Kranz which worked together as an excellent team ...view middle of the document...
A few examples are mentioned and discussed below, how Gene Kranz managed to promote teamwork and to achieve the best possible solutions despite such time pressure, lack of resources and unprecedented problems.
1. Stay optimistic
One of the important points for leaders in critical situations is the fact that one must remain optimistic and believe in themselves and the team to achieve the set goal. Without the personal conviction managers will not be able to motivate the team to develop new solutions, to continue working and foster collaboration. This leadership style is known as transformational leadership. (LaFasto 2001). After “Houston we have a problem” was transmitted from Apollo 13, Gene Kranz stayed optimistic all time and was convinced that they can manage to get the crew home safely and alive. He believed that Mission Control could overcome all the difficulties occurred. “We are not loosing these men“. One of the other sentences Gene Kranz said “failure is not an option“ emphasizes, that he believed in the goal and was willing to pull out all the stops to get the crew home (Apollo 13 1995).
2. Do not panic
Beside the fact that leaders have to communicate credible that they believe in achieving the goal, it is also important not to panic. Nothing is worse and mostly contra productive than panic and fear among team leaders. The staff and team members will recognize the panic among team leaders very quickly and the panic behavior can be rapid transmitted to others, efficient work in no longer possible in these cases (Baldoni 2011). Gene Kranz showed high self-confidence and did not panic. He conveyed the feeling to the astronauts that NASA is working continuously on all issues, to get them back home. Despite the precarious situation, the manager should perceive a cool head in order to be able to make crucial decisions. As Gene Kranz noticed that a hint of panic is spreading in the Mission Control, he has made it very clear, that this behavior would not help anyone: “Let’s stay cool people“ (Apollo 13 1995).
3. Use knowledge of all team members
It should be noted however, that not all the goal-making decisions can be made by the leaders on their own. Too strong, centralized controls, restrictions on the freedom of choice and in involvement of the team members can lead to unmotivated employees. These ambitious and creative professionals and specialist and their knowledge are essential to find unusual and experimental solutions within a crisis (Hentze et al. 2005). The management consultant Peter F. Drucker (2009) outlines good leadership and the behavior of the ideal manager in two rules: 1. Effective leaders rather think or say “we” then “I”. 2. Effective leaders are the first to listen and the last to speak. Gene Kranz has promoted problem-oriented work even in this hopeless crisis. He has formed his own independent teams to deal with individual problem solving and fostered collaboration. For example the...