On the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 8 Christmas Eve broadcast, we remember “the event that saved 1968″.
We draw inspiration to answer: How can I provide hope for my employees?
It was 3:49am on December 24, 1968 in Houston, TX when astronauts Frank Borman, Bill Anders, and Jim Lovell lost their connection with ground control, and the Apollo 8 spacecraft, and humanity. This is when they first skimmed the far side of the moon. “We’ll see you on the other side,” Lovell said. And thus began a climax of the mission, a mission that would powerfully provide hope to the nation.
The three astronauts watched in awe as landscapes never-before-seen by man rolled across their capsule windows. “I’ve often said we were like three school kids looking into a candy store window. Our noses were pressed against the glass…,” Lovell recalled in the 1999 PBS show, To the Moon.
And then, on the far side of orbit, an image new to the human eye rose: the earth, two-thirds lit by the sun, suspended far in the distance. Eight orbits later, the three astronauts would share this otherworldly view with an estimated half a billion television viewers. In doing so, they created one of the most inspirational moments in modern history: The Apollo 8 Christmas Eve broadcast.
“We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you,” Anders began.
“In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth…,” In a moving moment, the three astronauts took turns reading the first lines of the Book of Genesis.
It was, “not so much a religious reading, but more of a significant statement…,” Anders would later recall of the creation story. “That not just Christians and Jews would understand, but that all people. Buddhist, Hindu or atheist – would react to in a deep and moving way to help them remember this event of exploration.”
Borman concluded the broadcast. “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”
A Message to Provide Hope
The astronauts didn’t realize the impact of their Christmas Eve broadcast until they returned to earth. On December 29, 1968, thousands of people waited to greet the astronauts at Ellington Air Force Base.
“We got so many telegrams, and one I remember distinctly, all it said was, ‘You saved 1968’,” Lovell said in 2014, as reported on discovermagazine.com.
The Apollo 8 Christmas Eve broadcast was a message of hope. It was a marked success after America’s tumultuous year of 1968, a year that saw high losses of life in the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert F Kennedy, and a bitter presidential election. In difficult times, how can you, as a leader, provide hope for your employees?
The answer is in the story.
Three Ways to Inspire Your Employees With Storytelling
Storytelling is a powerful tool.
Harv Hartman, is a former Human Resources Director at NASA and currently a Historian for Experience to Lead. He explained the significance of understanding your company’s story when communicating your vision for your organization.
“[This] isn’t all about putting together the perfect deck of powerpoint slides, but maybe it’s about telling the stories that made a difference in our organization. What was our founding all about? Where were we going? What challenged me? What took me to a new level?” Hartman said.
1. Tell the Vision Story
You can use storytelling to provide hope for your employees by first telling the potential story, a vision story, of the final goal you wish to achieve. This drives the work it takes to make that story happen. NASA’s Apollo missions had a story with a clear goal: “We’re sending a man to the moon.”
“Everybody’s got a story,” Hartman said. “And part of the job of the leader is to make sure that all of these new people who are coming on board in big waves know and hear the story of the founding…. It’s often the driving force behind it.”
“Every team has something to offer if they understand the larger goal,” Hartman said.
2. Let the Process Guide the Story
Small successes drive each step to the larger goal, and these small successes are a part of the story. Despite the tragedy of Apollo 1, when three astronauts died during a preflight test, the NASA team had success with Apollo 7, when they successfully sent a crew into orbit around the earth. They could use Apollo 7 as the part of the story to drive them to the next step, the Apollo 8 stretch goal of moon orbit, and eventually to the Apollo 11 moon landing.
3. Allow Your Employees to Build the Story
Storytelling also has an impact when you allow your employees to participate in creating the story. When NASA planned the 1968 Christmas Eve broadcast, the only guidance they gave to their astronauts was, “Do something appropriate.” They inspired confidence in their team by trusting their astronauts to provide material for the broadcast.
What did the astronauts come up with? A simple, straight-forward reading that was almost a completely obvious choice for the first eyewitnesses of earth from the moon. Yet it had a great impact. The astronauts read the text as they witnessed the Earth balanced within space, from a god’s-eye view.
“What we got out of it was, something more authentic,” Hartman said.
Use Storytelling to Inspire Confidence in Your Team
By establishing a vision story, by telling the story based on its successful progress, and by allowing your employees to participate in the building of the story, you harness the power of storytelling and provide hope for your employees.
So how can you provide hope for your employees by using your company’s stories to inspire? What is your company’s risk and success story? Is your company facing a risk that you’re about to take – what story can you use to inspire confidence? Can you even draw upon a classic story, such as the story of the Apollo 8 mission, to inspire your team?
The Apollo team was, “not smarter than anyone else, they were uncommonly dedicated,” Hartman said.
That dedication was driven by the story they were a part of, because the story of the Apollo missions are, “a powerful, powerful story,” Hartman said. “[Experience to Lead clients] hear about how that had to all come together and the leaders who were able to call out the best in such a very large team…. That’s special. And when you convey that to them, I think people see that there’s a possibility they could do some amazing things back at their organizations.”
Take inspiration from the astronauts of Apollo 8. They created a memorable and impactful moment that became a powerful part of a their vision story. “You want to convince your team that you’re doing something of value, something worthwhile, something that adds value to society,” Hartman said. “You have the opportunity to shape that by the words you say and the actions you take around significant events in the life of your organization.”
Let the meaningful stories of your company provide hope for your employees.
Interested in experiencing more of NASA’s Apollo story firsthand? Register today for an Apollo Leadership Experience. Experience their stories of setbacks and successes throughout the years of Apollo. Those stories will stick with you to inspire your leadership for you and your team.
Check out our other inspiring Apollo stories, and meet some of the leaders from our Apollo Leadership Experience.