The Kranz Dictum

Recently I wrote about Gene Kranz, and a leadership lesson we can take from the portrayal of him in the movie Apollo 13.

Gene Kranz
I want to follow up with some powerful words from the real Gene following the disaster of Apollo 1, where astronauts  Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee died in fire during a training exercise.  Following that accident, Kranz addressed his team. The resulting speech became known as “The Kranz Dictum”.  Here it is:

”Spaceflight will never tolerate carelessness, incapacity, and neglect. Somewhere, somehow, we screwed up. It could have been in design, build, or test. Whatever it was, we should have caught it. We were too gung ho about the schedule and we locked out all of the problems we saw each day in our work. Every element of the program was in trouble and so were we. The simulators were not working, Mission Control was behind in virtually every area, and the flight and test procedures changed daily. Nothing we did had any shelf life. Not one of us stood up and said, ‘Dammit, stop!’ I don’t know what Thompson’s committee will find as the cause, but I know what I find. We are the cause! We were not ready! We did not do our job. We were rolling the dice, hoping that things would come together by launch day, when in our hearts we knew it would take a miracle. We were pushing the schedule and betting that the Cape would slip before we did.

From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: ‘Tough’ and ‘Competent.’ Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do. We will never again compromise our responsibilities. Every time we walk into Mission Control we will know what we stand for. Competent means we will never take anything for granted. We will never be found short in our knowledge and in our skills. Mission Control will be perfect. When you leave this meeting today you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write ‘Tough and Competent’ on your blackboards. It will never be erased. Each day when you enter the room these words will remind you of the price paid by Grissom, White, and Chaffee. These words are the price of admission to the ranks of Mission Control.”

As I covered in the previous post, in the Apollo 13 movie the Gene Kranz character knew when to establish clear requirements for success. I’ll note two interesting things from the Kranz Dictum that might seem out of fashion in today’s culture:

  • No blaming. No dissembling. “We are the cause! We were not ready!”
  • Action-oriented standards. “…you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write ‘Tough and Competent’”

Tough words from a tough leader at a tough time. Sometimes, that’s what’s required.

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  • Pete

    Combine the ideas behind “tough and competent” with The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and you have a very powerful approach to business and life.

    • Michael

      Great point Pete. Thanks.

    • Michael E. Diamond

      Great point Pete. Thanks.

  • jamesoliverjr

    As I already tweeted, this is awesome. Very inspiring.

  • D.J.

    Difficult times like this provide either a great opportunity to grow or a poor excuse to hide. It would be nice if more people like Gene Kranz stood up and accepted
    responsibility for their mistakes and took charge to ensure they never
    happen again. Too many people are afraid of being held accountable that they don’t make the tough call or simply ignore the issue waiting for someone else to fix it. We can never be perfect. We will always make mistakes, some much more severe than others. However, if we live our lives “Tough and Competent” we can not only limit the number of mistakes we make but when we are faced with truly difficult times instead of hiding, we will step up to meet them. Making sure we will do our best to work through them so we can learn and grow to make sure it never happens again. Thanks for the post.

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