Apollo 13: a lesson in leadership style

There’s a key moment in the blockbuster film Apollo 13, when Commander Jim Lovell and his crew are asked to perform an essential task to save their lives. They have already suffered an explosion on board, dangerously high levels of CO2, freezing temperatures and sleep deprivation. Finally, they need to fire up the engines to get themselves to the right place and trajectory to attempt re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

Under extreme pressure, the team are all able to operate to the true level of their capability. The crew quickly work out, by brainstorming with Mission Control, that if they keep their view of Planet Earth within the frame of a small triangular cockpit window while burning their last drops of fuel, they will stay on track for survival. In spite of the severe turbulence caused by firing the boosters, Lovell’s crew work together to keep the earth firmly in the window – and return safely home.

Leadership Development Leadership Style

Can your organisation keep it’s “earth” destination firmly in the window? The chaos of the powerful engines feels like the turbulent business environment in which we all operate. And leaders in business, as well as in space, have to be able to adapt to the environment in which they find themselves – and adapt their leadership style to suit the occasion. At 10Eighty we love to give examples that bring leadership to life. And in the film, the leadership team in Mission Control shifts decisively from “command-and-control” to trusting its team on both the ground and in space, to create the answers. To save the life of the crew, scientists are asked to improvise a makeshift carbon dioxide filter from a series of objects contained in the spaceship. The programme director spells out the goal, sets the (very short) timeframe before life becomes death, but trusts his team to show their full capabilities to come up with the answer.

Similarly, a successful leadership team in business today needs to adapt its style to suit all circumstances. We have all had work situations, perhaps not quite so dramatic, where we have felt overwhelmed by the pressures, the volatility and the uncertainty of our environment. And there is a strong tendency amongst leaders, when faced with rapid change, to take back control and direct not only what success “looks like” – but also how it is to be achieved. These leaders perhaps fear their team may not be equal to the uncertainty of a stretching task. Yet the only certainty on offer is that they will never, ever know how capable their team is, unless they are stretched.

So the capability of teams to operate as effectively as possible depends crucially on the awareness of the leader to the style required of a given set of circumstances. Sometimes this means a long series of obstacles and opportunities coming at high speed, for which highly collaborative hearts and minds and skill sets are required. In other times, a reversion to command-and-control leadership may be more appropriate. The point is that the modern Everyday Leader’s role is to know the difference. The very best organisations have these leaders – they stay connected to the purpose driving them, are able to assess quickly the changes in their environment and then adapt their leadership style to let the capabilities of their teams flourish.

Michael is Chief Executive of 10Eighty. 10Eighty is a career and talent management consultancy that helps organizations maximize the contribution of their employees by ensuring satisfying jobs and careers for their employees. Michael is a Human Resources professional, having worked in the National Health Service, Insurance, Commodities and Derivatives industries. He has worked within the career coaching business for fifteen years, both managing a £7 million business and delivering bespoke, one to one career coaching. In the last 15 years Michael has run businesses that have helped 75,000 people make successful career transitions. He is a frequent commentator in the press/media, which includes a range of topics on “successfully managing your career” and talent management. Most recent media mentions have included BBC South, CNBC, Radio4, Financial Times, City AM, Financial News, Evening Standard, The Sunday Times, The Grapevine and HR Magazine, to name but a few. He writes a careers column for People Management, a blog for the Human Resources Magazine and is a regular contributor to The Thompson Reuters HR Portal. Michael is known as a thought provoking speaker in the HR industry. In the last 18 months, Michael spoke at the Careers Partner International Conference, NHS breakthrough conference, NHS North West Leadership Academy, London School of Economics, University of Westminster’s Talent Management Conference, ICAEW Finance Directors Conference, CIPD learning and development conference and CIPD branch seminars. He is also Chair of the CIPD’s Central London Branch. Additionally is a non executive director of Marshall ACM, an e-learning company and the Total Reward Group, a compensation and benefits consultancy. Michael plans to publish his book “The guide to everlasting employability” in the Autumn 2012. He has just launched an iphone app “careers snakes and ladders” and an online interactive version of the book in collaboration with Marshall ACM to coincide the launch of his new business 10Eighty. Michael has a degree in Economics, a MBA from Warwick Business School and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. He holds an accreditation from the British Psychological Society for the use of psychometrics. Michael has completed the Fairplace Internal Accreditation Programme, the training element of which is externally recognised by the Association for Coaching. Michael Moran was until January 2012 Chief Executive of Fairplace and a main board director of Savile plc, the career and talent management consultancy. Fairplace is part of the Savile Group, an AIM listed plc. The Savile Group was placed 16th in the Sunday Times top 100 small companies in 2010.

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Michael Moran – CEO 10Eighty

A blog about career and talent management, things that might help you with your career and in your job.