Lessons to Learn from Gene Kranz

Gene Kranz was a NASA scientist who led the team that saved Apollo 13. He taught us how to become resilient in our personal lives and work environments, inspiring people all over the world to do better by using his philosophy of “resilience.”

Gene Kranz was the flight director of NASA’s Mission Control during the Apollo 13 mission. He is famous for his speech on April 17, 1970, when he told the astronauts that they would not be going home because their oxygen tank had exploded and they were in a life-threatening situation.

As we commemorate the 40th anniversary of man’s first steps on the moon, our minds naturally gravitate to the brave men who trod on lunar dust. But the men on the ground were just as important to the landing’s success, maybe none more so than Gene Kranz, Trip Director not just for Apollo 11, but also for the near-tragic Apollo 13 flight and many more.

Today, AoM reader Colin Pesyna enlightens us on some of the amazing principles we can take from one of America’s greatest presidents. Colin, thank you for your excellent article.

Many people, like me, believe that space exploration is the pinnacle of humanity’s achievements. NASA flight director Gene Kranz has repeatedly established himself as an outstanding leader among the numerous men and women who have been engaged in our species’ expeditions into space. His command of the dramatic Apollo 13 mission is perhaps his most well-known accomplishment, but it was also under his watch that NASA refocused after the tragedy of Apollo 1, achieved its goal of a lunar landing on Apollo 11, and took some of the first steps toward a long-term human presence in space with Skylab. The behaviour and characteristics of this remarkable guy may teach us a lot about personal integrity and leadership.

Self-assurance and confidence in your peers

Spaceflight is a risky and demanding endeavor. Irreversible judgments are often made with little knowledge and under time constraints. These few minutes may often determine the mission’s success or the crew’s safety.

Kranz felt confident in his ability to quickly and accurately grasp the key features of these types of complex challenges. He was able to combine the available facts into a path of action that would eventually become a solution, just like any great leader. And he did so while remaining calm and composed.

Despite the fact that Kranz was a pilot and an engineer, no one individual could be expected to have all of the skills and information required to make these judgments in isolation. When Kranz became NASA’s Flight Director, he was just 31 years old. At the time of Apollo 11, the average age of the guys at Mission Control was just 26. Many older engineers doubted the feasibility of a moon landing and lacked confidence in the future of space flight, as well as the safety of such a mission. As a result, Kranz headed a team of fresh college graduates, a group that made up for their lack of experience by a commitment to seeing the project through to completion.

Kranz trusted them to perform their duties, express their concerns, and provide candid appraisals of the situation. His belief in them inspired them to believe in themselves. His leadership brought the team together and instilled in them a strong sense of purpose. They all understood that failure was not an option while he was in charge.


Presence in Adversity

Immediately after the explosion on Apollo 13, Mission Control worked feverishly to figure out what was going on. Every minute brought new failures and warnings, and every engineer on shift was feverishly attempting to make sense of the deluge of data. As Flight Director, Kranz was responsible for deciphering what his crew was saying and determining how to keep the crew safe and the mission on schedule. He was also in charge of keeping his guys focused on their work, as well as ensuring that he and his team completed their tasks swiftly and accurately. As the astronauts began to lose oxygen and electrical power for unknown causes, Kranz’s voice broke through with a simple command: “Okay now, let’s all maintain our calm.” Let’s fix the issue without exacerbating it by speculating.” I’m astounded by the tranquility in his voice when I listen to the flight control tapes. Kranz seems to be thinking logically, and his voice is devoid of any anxiety or terror that he may be experiencing. Being a calm anchor in the midst of a storm provides everyone around you the confidence to do the same. Always maintain self-control and be in the present moment.

Consistent Ambition

Some men are willing to sit on their laurels after achieving tremendous success and spend out their days basking in the glory of that achievement. True leaders, on the other hand, are constantly eager to go ahead; they want their legacy to serve as a springboard for others to keep moving forward. Despite the fact that the 40th anniversary of the moon landing is a major event, Gene Kranz nearly didn’t attend the commemoration in Washington, D.C. These reunions are bittersweet for him. “Three decades ago, in a top story of the century, Americans put six flags on the Moon,” he stated ten years ago. We no longer strive for fresh and daring space exploits; instead, we commemorate former milestones. The space program’s stalemate over the last decade has done little to alleviate these sentiments. “Basically, I’m depressed,” he stated lately. And I believe that everyone up there (from the Apollo-era NASA contingent) will say something similar. Now, 40 years after our first lunar mission, the next lunar landing seems to be a long way off.” A leader is a guy who is always focused on the future rather than the past.

Personality Type

While Kranz had a lot to teach us about leadership, dedication, and character, he was no slouch when it came to fashion. Marta, his wife, would provide him with his signature white vest, which would be imprinted with the mission patch for that flight. This fashion statement is still a part of NASA mythology today. Kranz’s flattop hairstyle was also a trademark of his image. Whether purposefully or unconsciously, Kranz cultivated a distinct image that helped him become one of the most known figures in the space program. A guy should attempt to establish features of his personal look that will be uniquely connected with him, and to choose a style that will stay invariant despite the changes in fashion.


The Dictum of Kranz

Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee, astronauts of Apollo 1, perished in a fire during a training exercise on January 27, 1967. Kranz addressed his colleagues the following Monday, giving what became known as the Kranz Dictum. Despite the fact that Kranz’s statements are addressed at Mission Control personnel, they have a wider audience. The essence of this man’s instruction to us all is his will to honesty, purpose, and excellence.

I strongly advise you to read all of his remarks. Pay particular attention to his unmistakable sense of personal responsibility and the precision with which he demands that he and those who will work under him adhere to the highest standards possible. The speech is succinct, yet it is packed with information. Its two paragraphs are jam-packed with useful information.

“Carelessness, ineptitude, and negligence will never be tolerated in spaceflight.” We messed up somewhere, somewhere. It might have happened during design, development, or testing. We should have captured whatever it was. We were too committed to the timetable, and we blocked out all of the issues we encountered on a daily basis at work. Every aspect of the program, including ourselves, was in jeopardy. The simulators were broken, Mission Control was behind in almost every department, and flight and test procedures were changing on a regular basis. Nothing we accomplished had an expiration date. We didn’t get up and say, “Dammit, stop!” I’m not sure what Thompson’s committee will discover as the root of the problem, but I know what I’ve discovered. We are the problem! We weren’t prepared! We failed to fulfill our responsibilities. We were gambling, hoping that everything would fall into place by launch day, even though we knew it would take a miracle. We were rushing the timetable in the hopes that the Cape would fall behind us.

Flight Control will be recognized by two terms from now on: ‘Tough’ and ‘Competent.’ Tough implies that we are always responsible for what we do or don’t do. We will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever We’ll know what we stand for every time we enter Mission Control. We will never take anything for granted if we are competent. We will never be found wanting in terms of knowledge or abilities. Mission Control will function flawlessly. When you finish today’s meeting, the first thing you’ll do is head to your office and write ‘Tough and Competent’ on your blackboards. It can never be removed. When you go into the room each day, these words will remind you of the price Grissom, White, and Chaffee paid. These are the requirements for entry into the ranks of Mission Control.”

A comprehensive examination of this outstanding guy is beyond the scope of a single blog post. Failure is Not an Option, Kranz’s autobiography, or this documentary of the same name, might be used to learn more about him and his accomplishments at NASA. (Part 8 concerning Apollo 13, possibly the most dramatic single episode, is highly recommended.)





Gene Kranz is a highly respected figure in the aviation industry. He led the team of engineers and astronauts that developed the Apollo 13 mission. Lessons from his leadership can be learned by anyone who wishes to lead their own team to success. Reference: apollo 13 gene kranz leadership.

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