Did you know that Neil Armstrong got his first words on the moon’s surface wrong?
What he said was ‘One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’
What he meant to say was ‘One small step for a man…’
Even more remarkable about that first lunar landing was that Armstrong broke some rules. According to Buzz Aldrin, Armstrong was a stickler for protocols and would not break them under any circumstances.
One of the most important protocols was that the astronauts should not leave the field of vision of the cameras they set up on the moon. But when Aldrin was climbing the ladder back into the lunar lander, Armstrong took himself off, with a box for collecting samples and was out of sight for nearly two minutes.
Why did he do that and what are the lessons for training in Enterprise Britain?
Well, clearly the Apollo 11 mission was a massive success, both in terms of the scientific data collected and the positive PR it gave the US around the world.
What we saw from Armstrong was delegation working perfectly as it so often doesn’t in business.
Armstrong was not the boss of NASA and as he says himself, he was one person out of about 400,000 working on the project… but the success of the mission was delegated to him. He clearly had assessed a local situation which could not have been anticipated in a simulator and made a decision about what he saw in front of him.
To put it in business terms, the output was delegated to him, not the input.
When we run programmes about delegation and try to understand what happens in a business before putting the course together, it’s so often the other way round.
Managers will go to great lengths to delegate ‘tasks’. They explain what has to be done step by step and how to deal with scenario a, b or c. The problem comes when their team member comes back to them to ask a load of questions because scenario d has arisen and they don’t know to deal with it, or they complete the task and the outcome is nothing like what was expected.
How about a different approach?
It would be great if managers could describe the end result they want, the parameters in which the team member should work and the support that’s on offer as the task unfolds… and nothing else.
Let the team member go away and achieve the task as they see fit. They’ll be innovative, do things differently to the manager (which might be uncomfortable) but they will get there… and Enterprise Britain will have a batch of Neil Armstrongs who understand the importance of protocols but also know when they can be bent a bit to achieve a result.