Your Brand and Your Leadership – as an Executive and a Company: Failure is Not an Option – Part One


Your BRAND is who you are, as a person and as a company – and it has CLEAR objectives.  Absolutely.  When a clear objective is presented and a team is asked to resolve it – as opposed to a vague problem that requires consideration – the team can spring into action. This type of go-get-‘em behavior and creative problem solving will become as much a brand signature for you as your name and logo, believe me. Let’s take Apollo 13 example: “Houston, we have a problem.” In the 35 years since the Apollo 13 space mission, these words have been repeated as a universal metaphor to connote a critical situation. When people are overwhelmed by the challenges facing them, this phrase effectively communicates the gravity of the problem. What usually follows is the other famous quote from the movie “Apollo 13”: “Failure is not an option.” It is a clarion cry for a solution.

Problem or Predicament? The saga of Apollo 13 is so well known that leadership trainers and executives have utilized it as an example of effective leadership. On closer review, the leadership was effective because of what it was not. It was not presumptuous or overbearing.

The crew returned safely from its mission because Gene Kranz, mission flight director, issued a clear and specific directive to the mission control team: Return the crew safely to Earth. That is the type of leadership that people thirst for from their corporate and government leaders. Too often, leaders do not issue clear objectives. Instead, teams are presented with predicaments to ponder, instead of clearly articulated problems to solve.

“Failure is not an option,” does not connote leadership. It is for that reason that Gene Kranz did not utter those words, despite the depiction in the film. That pronouncement would have been useless to the Mission Control team that was trying to solve a life-or-death crisis.

If in fact the phrase is not historically accurate, then what is its origin? According to Mike Bostick, when Apollo 13 researchers gathered information for the movie, a scriptwriter interviewed his father Jerry, a mission flight controller. Jerry Bostick’s actual statement was, “We just calmly laid out all the options, and failure was not one of them.” That clear and reasoned approach to solving a problem was rewritten and given to actor Ed Harris, who played the role of Gene Kranz. So, the team’s deliberative decision-making and problem solving was synthesized into an oft-repeated sound bite. Leadership = Objective Setting + Decision Making The Mission Control team did not strive to be innovative. Their innovation was a byproduct of effective problem-solving. To facilitate innovation and organizational effectiveness, we must first expunge the sound bites from our leadership vocabulary. “Give it 110 percent,” “Think outside the box” and “Failure is not an option” should be replaced with: Leadership that is objective-focused.

Collaboration that utilizes the unlimited cognitive bandwidth of the team.

Decision-making and problem-solving methods that have certifiable efficacy.

THAT alone will brand you as a company and a LEADER who definitely has the right stuff.

To learn more about my upcoming Branding Course, go to: and to inquire about working with me as your executive mentor, visit my website:

Until next time, Libby Gill Branding Expert, Executive Coach, Keynote Speaker

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