Lessons from the Moon

Written by Frank Calviño

July, 20. 1969. The entire scientific and military elite of the United States of America holds their breath. Everybody is quietly listening to a weak, humming and at times broken radio signal. A voice seems to creep out of the empty space: “Beautiful view”, says the Captain Buzz Aldrin, to which Commander Neil Armstrong replies “Isn’t it magnificent?”, “Magnificent desolation” completes Aldrin.

Mankind has reached the Moon. Against all odds, against all possibilities, mankind has achieved a titanic feat.

The Apollo 11 program represents, perhaps like no other project can, the unabashed will and ingenuity of mankind to pursue seemingly impossible goals. And to conquer them in the face of the utmost adversity.

It is a history lesson on efficiency, careful planning and above all things: leadership. Today we want to highlight precisely the leadership element, and together, review three lessons learned from the men in the Moon.

1.- Talent is not enough.

Reaching our Earth satellite was, by all accounts, a mad man’s dream. Every pilot in the USA Airforce and Navy was well aware of this. Yet, many of them fought to be selected to command the mission. And although NASA knew that they needed a fearless ACE to sit in the cockpit, they also understood that they needed a responsible and cooperative commander for the mission. Someone capable of saying YES when it was possible, and NO when it was needed. Henceforth the man selected to command the whole program was the true and tested Neil Armstrong. Where there better pilots? For sure. Where there more courageous hot-shots that could pull amazing things out of their hats while flying? Yes. But Armstrong was good enough and above all things: reliable enough. Leadership is not earned exclusively upon talent, but rather upon a combination of talent and reliability. A leader must be good at what he is leading, but not necessarily the best. Instead, he needs to be the best at offering consistency and understanding the weight of responsibility.

2.- Fail and learn

The trip to the Moon was through a really bumpy road. NASA failed over and over again on many different experiments, tests, and facets of the Apollo Program. When confronted by the press about the constant failures, Neil Armstrong famously said: “We need to fail here on Earth, so we don’t fail there on the Moon”. He was right. Failure is an integral part of learning. Failing shows you the exact part or process that is not working and allows you to change and shift gears, in order to improve. Especially if you are attempting to do something extremely difficult that no one, or really few, has done before. Do not be afraid of failing, be afraid of not learning. Every time you fail, sit down, review what you have done, what outcome you were searching to achieve, and what real outcome you have achieved.

3.- Hope is the fuel

Leading others is to trade with hopes and dreams. No one follows someone who does not seem to be clear where he is going. No one follows another person that has no goals. A leader must understand how to communicate its desires, goals, dreams, and ideas. And he needs to entice the team to follow those same dreams and hopes, like if they owned them. Up to a point, a successful leader is also a preacher of sorts. During the Apollo 11 mission, Buzz Aldrin became the cornerstone of hope for the entire team. He was the second in command, yet for many, he was the spirit of the program. In face of death and failure, during the funerals of fallen astronauts, while talking to the widows and their children, Aldrin was the voice of hope. A man with a tender heart capable of inspiring others to understand the monumental objective that represented to reach the Moon. It was Aldrin the one that constantly insisted they were not doing this for their personal glory, but instead for the benefit of humanity. And Armstrong, as commander of the mission, allowed and fostered this behavior. He understood, pretty fast, the soothing and beneficial power of Aldrin. Not in vain, Aldrin was a Presbyterian preacher.

In July of 1969 we, humanity, landed in the Moon not by chance, not by accident, but by the combined efforts of a team of remarkable people. A team that was lead by two exemplary men: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Men from which we learned that leaders are measured not only by talent but by commitment, that failure is a learning opportunity and that hope is the glue that keeps a team together – a band of brothers – in the pursuit of success.

About the author

Frank Calviño

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