A Leader Should Know How To Manage Failure'

(Former President of India APJ Abdul Kalam at Wharton India Economic forum, Philadelphia, March 22,2008)

Question: Could you give an example, from your own experience, of how
leaders should manage failure?
Kalam: Let me tell you about my experience. In 1973 I became the project
director of India's satellite launch vehicle program, commonly called the
SLV-3. Our goal was to put India's "Rohini" satellite into orbit by 1980. I
was given funds and human resources -- but was told clearly that by 1980 we
had to launch the satellite into space. Thousands of people worked together
in scientific and technical teams towards that goal.
By 1979 -- I think the month was August -- we thought we were ready. As the
project director, I went to the control center for the launch. At four
minutes before the satellite launch, the computer began to go through the
checklist of items that needed to be checked. One minute later, the
computer program put the launch on hold; the display showed that some
control components were not in order. My experts -- I had four or five of
them with me -- told me not to worry; they had done their calculations and
there was enough reserve fuel. So I bypassed the computer, switched to
manual mode, and launched the rocket. In the first stage, everything worked
fine. In the second stage, a problem developed. Instead of the satellite
going into orbit, the whole rocket system plunged into the Bay of Bengal.
It was a big failure.
That day, the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization, Prof.
Satish Dhawan, had called a press conference. The launch was at 7:00 am,
and the press conference -- where journalists from around the world were
present -- was at 7:45 ...
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