Leadership Lessons: Neil Armstrong and Jim Lovell

In an old interview with Selling Power magazine (How High Can You Fly?), former astronaut Jim Lovell likened crisis situations to playing solitaire.

“You pick up a card and that’s a crisis,” he explained. “Only after you find a place to put that card can you pick up another card and move on to the next crisis. You can’t think about the twentieth card in the deck; you have to focus on the card in your hand.”

Lovell was famously the backup for Neil Armstrong on the historic Apollo 11 space mission. This week on the occasion of Armstrong’s death at age 82, Lovell reflected in Des Plaines Patch on the legacy of his longtime friend and colleague: “His legacy is an example if we want to accomplish a project as the American people that we must work together as a team with good leadership and be able to do that. The Apollo program is an example of what you can do if you have the will and given the authority to do something.”

Lovell was never the type to let obstacles get in his way. As a child, he dreamed of flying rocket ships before space travel existed. He wanted to become a rocket engineer, but he didn’t have the money to go to Cal Tech or MIT. No problem – Lovell switched his goal to flying jets.

“If you can’t go in one direction, you set up a goal for something else,” Lovell says. “A lot of times you won’t accomplish them, but when you’re striving, often you luck out and something else opens up.”

In fact, if the NASA doctors had their way, Lovell would never have joined the space program, flown in four missions, or been portrayed by Tom Hanks in a Hollywood blockbuster. Why? He failed a physical exam on what amounted to a technicality. A few years later, however, NASA eased up on physical requirements in favor of piloting experience, and Lovell leapt at his second chance. To be a success, he says, you must persevere.

“When you look at the end result today,” he explains, “it’s easy to think that it was nothing but smooth sailing all the way. But perseverance was absolutely essential to getting to where I am.”

About Lisa

Lisa is Editorial Director at Selling Power.

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