We all have those movies we absolutely love. Maybe it’s because they make us laugh, or inspire us, or just tell a great story. For me, Major League does all three. A bunch of misfits finding a way to take down the mighty Yankees? Pure magic.
But then there are those movies that stay with you years later, because they made you think. They taught you something. One of those movies is Apollo 13. Based on the book Lost Moon, it tells the remarkable story about a doomed space mission. But instead of focusing on what went wrong, it focuses on the courage of the astronauts on board, and the tireless efforts of the NASA crew to bring them home safely.
There are so many aspects of the movie that serve as teaching points; so many takeaways that can be applied to all types of leadership situations. In fact, I find the film to be so inspiring that I’ve actually alluded to it in a previous blog. In that piece, I spoke about Captain Jim Lovell’s ability to remain calm when disaster struck and continue to steer the ship and lead his crew. If he did have any doubts as to whether they would survive, he didn’t let on, because he knew that in a situation as intense as the one they were in, the smallest seed of doubt would blossom quickly.
There’s a reason Lovell was often used as a motivational speaker. He was handed the ultimate test as a leader, and he passed with flying colors.
Just a few days ago, I was reminded of another scene from the movie when I overheard the plumbers in my basement lamenting about a piece that just didn’t fit right. Two weeks after we moved into a new house (which is pretty old, actually), we noticed water in the basement when the rudimentary system that had somehow been keeping water out finally failed.
“We’re gonna have to fit a square peg into a round hole,” one of the plumbers said.
I nearly blurted out, “Oh, like in Apollo 13!”
Fortunately, I thought better of it and let them do their job, trying not to think about the bizarre experiment that was taking place in my future bathroom.
Anyway, at one point during the movie, it becomes apparent that the carbon dioxide levels in the space craft are getting alarmingly high due to a lack of filters in the lunar module. When the flight surgeon notifies NASA Director Gene Krantz, he suggests they utilize the filters in the command module. These filters, however, take square cartridges, which won’t work with round holes. But instead of panicking, Krantz simply says, “Well then, I suggest you gentlemen invent a way to put a square peg in a round hole — rapidly.”
In another scene, Krantz is thrown a curveball when he’s informed that the craft doesn’t have enough power to make it to reentry. As a group of men argue about how many amps they can run on, one person steps up and points out that the situation is actually far worse than they believed.
“The more time we talk down here, the more juice they waste up there. I’ve been looking at the data for the past hour,” he says.
“That’s the deal?” Krantz asks.
“That’s the deal.”
And just like that, Krantz orders his crew to power down the lunar module and figure out a way to keep everything running with limited power. He gets people into simulators working on reentry scenarios and tells his men to “find out how to squeeze every amp of these machines.”
To me, that’s exactly the type of leader that’s needed in an urgent situation. Krantz could have called another meeting or brought in more people to hear their opinions. But the clock was ticking, so he took action. He knew that standing around debating the point wasn’t going to bring the astronauts home any sooner.
Of course, there are always going to be times when you need to get a second opinion and make sure the entire team is on board with a plan. We all know that. But there are also times when a leader must be willing to make a quick decision and act on it.
Sometimes that’s the deal.