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On Halloween night, Kevin and I ventured out to the movies.  Sadly, we don’t get trick or treaters in our neighborhood and neither of us wanted to brave the crazy party scene this year!  Instead, we decided to go see The Martian, starring Matt Damon.  In case you have not seen it, The Martian is about Astronaut Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, who on a manned mission to Mars is left for dead by his NASA crewmates, after a fierce storm.  Against all odds, Watney survives and is stranded alone on a planet with scarce resources and is forced to figure out how to survive until NASA can execute a rescue plan.

As I watched the movie, I was captivated by the storyline and overwhelmed by the number of leadership lessons that were peppered throughout the movie. There is an amazing mix of both personal and team success principles packed into this two and a half hour movie.

Here are three leadership lessons I loved during this film:

#1 Never give upPersonal leadership lesson: In one of the first few scenes of the movie Mark Watney, arises from a pile of sand and rubble to find himself alive, injured and stranded alone on Mars, 249 million miles from home.  I was thinking to myself as I watched this scene, “What would I do? Would I lay there and die or would I get up and try to survive?”  I would like to think I would have done what he did. Fight and never give up, but…..the road ahead of him appeared impossible.  After all, his food supply was limited and what were the odds of growing food on a barren planet?  But Watney did not give up; he was determined to find a way to not only survive but also return back to planet Earth. Team leadership lesson:  When the NASA team back in Houston discovered that Watney was still alive, they immediately began working on a plan to “Bring him home” although the Director of NASA, played by Jeff Bridges, had his doubts about the feasibility of success.  However he did not let his doubts stop the efforts and he challenged and encouraged the team to find a way to get to Watney before his time and resources ran out.  Leaders know that no matter how daunting circumstances appear, the only way to succeed is to proceed and never give up.

#2 Leverage your strengthsPersonal leadership lesson: Having assessed his surroundings and inventorying his food supply, astronaut Watney calculated that he only had enough food on hand to survive a little over 100 days; therefore, in order to live he had to create a food supply on a planet that grew nothing.  Luckily he was a botanist.  As I was watching my cynical side said “Oh how convenient, he has just the skills he needs to grow his own food.  And what’s more he is a scientist so he knows how to create a water source as well.  I could never do that.”  But the more I watched the scenes unfold I realized that Watney had to leverage his strengths.  Just because he was a trained botanist and scientist did not guarantee that he would be successful.  He had to trust that his skillset gave him the power to succeedTeam leadership lesson:  In order to find a way to rescue Watney, the NASA team members rallied to combine their collective strengths to come up with a timely solution to get to Watney before Mars got to him.  No one person had the skillsets to make it possible.  It was gratifying to watch the number of people and different strengths (engineering, public relations, communication, astrophysicist, fellow astronauts and various directors within NASA) that were leveraged to pull off the rescue mission.  Leaders leverage their own strengths as well as the strengths of others to succeed in their endeavors.

#3 Focus on the SolutionPersonal leadership lesson: Too often when faced with adversity of any type, we let the problem suction our energy like a vacuum cleaner.  However the only way to make a problem go away for good is to solve it and astronaut Watney demonstrated a resilient focus on the solution.  From the time he arose from the sand until the time he was orbited into space to connect with his rescue crew, he was faced with problem after problem after problem.   When he tried to create water his contraption exploded into flames.  Just as he was feeling good about the potato farm he created in his pod, a rip in the siding caused the entire crop to freeze and combust leaving him barren soil and dead crops.  When he was excited at the possibility of being rescued, Watney discovered it required him to be orbited into space to be reunited with his former ship and crewmates.  And during his rescue mission, his capsule was thrown off course and orbited himself into space to be caught by his former crew captain.  Regardless of the problem that popped up, Watney quickly began formulating a plan to solve the problem… one step at a time.  Team leadership lesson: The NASA team encountered just as many problems as Watney did and just like him they were solely focused on any and every option that could bring him back home.  When their first attempt to send the astronaut provisions failed, NASA kept searching for the next solution, no matter how ridiculous it might seem. Who would have thought that you could rescue an astronaut by launching him into space with the stripped down nose of a space ship, no windows and a tarp for a roof?  Leaders never let the problem take control, they focus only on the solution and their task at hand.

There were so many other great lessons from this movie, I could probably write an entire leadership book.  However, never giving up, leveraging strengths and focusing on the solution will guarantee outstanding results for you and you organization each and every time.

Reflection Questions -What other Leadership nuggets did you get from the movie?  What would you do if you were stranded on planet Mars?

Call for action:  Please leave a comment below.  If you have questions, please feel free to ask and I will respond personally.

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