This article uses scenes from the critically acclaimed movie, Apollo 13 as the backdrop to improve insight on teamwork and managing people. The intent is to invoke rhetorical questions regarding management style and cooperativeness as a leader, subordinate, teammate and… a follower. While the content within this article is intended to encourage improvement upon leadership skills, do not be surprised to learn more about ones ineptitude in these areas rather than identifying strengths. Certainly, we could all benefit from our own missteps, errors and gaffs when adopting the commander of Apollo 13 Jim Lovell’s long held belief that their mission was a “successful failure.” The ideal audiences for this case study are senior leaders with people management responsibility.
- Learn to cope with pressure without losing one’s cool.
- Receive a guidepost to watch the Apollo 13 movie in a whole new light as a take-home leadership and people management training tool.
- To help teams be better able to accept personal responsibility for one’s actions.
- Understand that optimism and pride are the key elements in the face of doubters.
We have lift off!
It is time to embark on a mission of challenging leadership belief systems. No matter the stress of sales & life threatening events in facilities; the daily people and situational management; and the member service delivery obstacles, a facility’s leadership can and must be equipped for anything to happen. The general public expects it, if not demands it. Heck, there is even a bumper stick that proclaims “stuff happens.” Staff also expects support, if not demands it, from its leaders.
As new-found appreciation grows, watching the scenes identified below for what really happened on that infamous week in April of 1970, observe the parallels to situations which occur in facilities. It is enlightening, if not cathartic. It may cause one to never watch movies about true life events the same way again!
Watch a more detailed explanation of how to complete this activity in the below video. Oh, and don’t forget the popcorn!
First, obtain a DVD of the movie Apollo 13, the chapters referenced below will match with the DVD version and can be paused correctly when presenting to team participants.
Secondly, watch it alone without stopping it but with a note pad. Identify leadership and people management engagements/scenarios in nearly all scenes with NASA flight control and the crew without the guideposts below.
Thirdly, watch it a second time with the below scene and chapter guideposts. Stop after each chapter scene earmarked and take notes for a future leadership meeting or retreat. These guideposts will fuel management discussions of observations and “a..ha” moments from the movie related to people and operations in fitness facilities. The ideal plan would be to take two future management meetings for 1-2 hours each splitting up and reviewing the nine scenes identified below:
Scene 1: Chapter 8
“Supporting subordinates when questioned by superiors and supporting subordinates when questioned by other subordinates.”
- Critical Quotes: “It was my call.” “We have two days to get it right.”
- Key Learning: Know your audience and in what direction should support travel and towing the company line.
- Discussion Points: Delaying an obvious fire, on-Boarding patience of a new hire, treatment of replacement person of popular employee. Blaming upper management.
Scene 2: Chapter 12
“Creating that lift off enthusiasm.”
- Critical Quotes: “It was a fuel pump.” “A few bumps and we’ll be hauling the mail.”
- Key Learning: Experience, confidence and high energy matter in leadership.
- Discussion Points: Tone and energy of meetings and the facility. Who owns the commitment of training and on-boarding of new hires to completion? How many members should a leader interact with each day (10-25+ each day)? What is done for staff birthdays or anniversaries? What form of recognition is dated and needs revival/freshness?
Scene 3: Chapters 19/20
“Coping with pressure without losing your cool.”
- Critical Quotes: “Houston, we have a problem.” “One at a time people.” “Don’t make it worse by guessing, work the problem.”
- Key Learning: Assess full picture in emergency without acting too quickly. Listen. Think.
- Discussion Points: Make supplies for AED machine available. First aid and exam gloves stocked. Pool safety equipment stowed properly on pool deck. Mock emergencies conducted regularly and outlined in on-boarding process. Batteries changed. Member engagement surveys (Net Promoter Scores).
Scene 4: Chapters 28/29
“Listening to divergent and opposed positions.”
- Critical Quotes: “I care about what it can do.”
- Key Learning: Loudest dialogue is not always the best, healthy dialogue is.
- Discussion Points: How many interactions do fitness floor staff have, is it 3 per an 8-hour shift? Do payroll efficiencies exist? Are sales staff handing off the new member for an orientation without fail and with sincere care?
Scenes 5 & 6: Chapters 31/32
“Re-focus when staff morale is low.”
- Critical Quotes: “Let’s Go Home.” “Failure is not an option.”
- Key Learning: When goals and initiatives are not attainable, moving on to a solution is invaluable.
- Discussion Points: Visualize the perfect visit with sights, smells; energy, functionality and engagement are at its highest. What is the energy one brings when sales blanks for the day? What if for retention a motto is developed that losing a member is “not an option”?
Scene 7: Chapter 35
“Understanding that only T.E.AM. work (Together.Everyone.Achieves.More) works when facing monumental challenges.”
- Critical Quotes: “Let’s build a filter.” “Tell me this isn’t a government operation.”
- Key Learning: Staff that plays together, stays together: utilize paint ball, bowling, go cart races, bubble soccer for team building outings. Understand the bigger purpose of the facility.
- Discussion Points: If you cannot recite the mission/values, can you live them? “Are we on Vox?” What does it mean to not let see staff or members see you sweat in tight spots?
Scene 8: Chapter 51
“Help people accept personal responsibility.”
- Critical Quotes: “Farewell Aquarius.” “Sorry Jack, old habit. She’s yours to fly.”
- Key Learning: People cannot take responsibility until it is there responsibility.
- Discussion Points: What does it say about the person who takes over a computer mouse of someone whom is being taught to use a software program correctly, finishing a report that was delegate? Doing it yourself stunts growth for teams. Passing on conducting regular performance reviews dooms growth. Know the 3 secrets of recognition:
- Giving too much makes it unappreciated.
- Giving too little, teams don’t respond.
- Giving without passion, in a timely manner or specifics, team members’ appreciation won’t last.
Scene 9: Chapter 8
“Developing pride and optimism in the face of doubters.”
- Critical Quotes: “I believe this will be our finest hour.” “Gentlemen, it has been a privilege to fly with you.”
- Key Learning: There is no place for negativity or excuses ever.
- Discussion Points: Sharing bad news isn’t always necessary (Typhoon). What is a high bar or stretch goal for a facility, for a department? Can it be done? Answer: Why not?
Congratulations, you have plunged safely into the ocean of true leadership and people management. By using a simple technique such as watching a movie, leaders can better understand the nuances of delivering safely on the mission of the facility.
Chu, J. (2016, April 28). Apollo 13 commander James Lovell: “Crises don’t bother me anymore.” Retrieved August 1, 2016, from http://news.mit.edu/2016/apollo-13-commander-james-lovell-0428