Quotes And Leadership From First Man

A Reel Leadership Article

When the movie First Man was released, there was a huge controversy. What was the controversy? First Man doesn’t show the astronaut Neil Armstrong planting the United States flag when he sets foot on the moon.

Because of the lack of the flag, a lot of people protested the movie by refusing to see the movie. I have to say these people missed out on a great movie about a man.

Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong in First Man movie

First Man wasn’t a movie about the United States moon landing. Instead, First Man was the story of Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), his struggle to come to terms with the loss of his daughter, and the lunar landing.

As such, First Man did a fantastic job telling Neil Armstrong’s story. I felt compelled to continue watching the movie and to see what happened next. I was also interested in seeing the leadership lessons in First Man.

You won’t be surprised to know there were plenty of leadership lessons to be found in the movie. We’re going to take a look at those leadership lessons in today’s Reel Leadership article.

Quotes And Leadership Lessons From First Man

1. Many starts are shaky:

First Man begins with Neil Armstrong testing a high-altitude plane. The plane was bouncing around the atmosphere and violently shaking Neil.

His ride into the atmosphere didn’t look fun. It was rough and frustrating. Despite the shaking, Neil was able to break through and accomplish his goal.

Many leadership journeys start off shaky. New leaders are trying to figure out the boundaries of their position and what they can do. Those the new leaders are leading are pushing back to test the mettle of the new leader.

These challenges make many leadership starts shaky. They challenge the leaders and the teams they lead.

Be prepared to face some challenges as you take on a new, untested leadership position. If you get through the shakes, things begin to smooth out.

2. Success can be beautiful:

Man! When Neil’s high-altitude plane broke through the atmosphere, he was treated to such a beautiful view. Blue skies and a bright, shining sun. It was stunning.

The view he was treated to would have been impossible if he would have given up during the challenging, shaky flight. He would have given up success and the beauty had he given up.

You will miss out on beauty if you give up too early in your leadership journey. You have to continue to push through and break through the barriers in your way.

When you do, there’s beauty waiting for you.

3. Chuck Yeager (Matthew Glave):

Kid’s a good engineer, but he’s distracted.

Chuck was a colleague of Neil’s. After Neil returned safely from flying the X-15, Chuck made note of how distracted Neil was.

Neil, we learned, had a lot on his mind. His daughter was terminally ill. He had multiple near disasters.

His mind wasn’t in the right place. And his distractedness almost cost him his life.

Distracted leaders are dangerous leaders. They’re unable to see the trees in the forest. Instead, they just see masses of trees.

This hinders their ability to navigate the craziness of leadership and leads them to the danger zone.

4. The visuals and audio you use can be powerful:

Neil’s daughter Karen (Lucy Stafford) eventually passes away. You learn this when you hear the clink, clink, clink of the casket being lowered into the ground. You also see the chains attached to the casket.

This was a powerful scene in First Man. You know something major happened. But what happened wasn’t good.

I was left emotionally drained after seeing this scene. You will be too. Yet you can learn something from this simple scene in First Man.

The visuals and audio you use can leave a major impact on your team. You can move your team emotionally with the proper use of visuals and sounds.

They tell a story. They connect emotionally. And they will move people to action.

Learn to tell stories with sound and visuals. You may be surprised just how much they’ll move your team.

5. Your vantage point changes your perspective:

Neil was asked why space travel was important. Neil’s response was impressive. He told the team asking questions:

When you get a different vantage point, it changes your perspective.

This line gave me chills. His words hit me like a punch to the gut.

You will have a different perspective than those you lead. Why? Because your vantage point is different than theirs.

You’re in the corner office with a high-level vantage point. Your team is on the ground, in the muck. They have a surface level vantage point.

Neither one is wrong. Yet the vantage point gives people a different perspective.

As a leader, it is imperative you change your vantage point. Get out of the office. Get on the floor. Interact with those you’re leading.

Your perspective will change as you change your vantage point.

6. Get back up after failure:

Neil and the other NASA astronauts were put into a gravity simulator. The test was to see if they could stabilize the vehicle before they passed out.

Neil was the first to go. He passed out after a brief battle to stabilize the vehicle. When he awoke, he said let’s do this again.

He didn’t let his failure stop him from trying again. Instead, he ran head-first into the challenge again. He wasn’t going to let failure stop him.

You’ve got to be like Neil Armstrong. You have to be willing to get back up after a failure and try for success again.

Don’t let failure stop you. You can recover from failure. In fact, you must recover from failure.

7. You have to deal with your past:

The crux of First Man wasn’t the space landing. First Man was the struggle of Neil Armstrong dealing with the loss of his daughter Karen. Everything seemed to emanate from her death.

His distractedness. His drive. And his aloofness from his sons. They were all problems from not dealing with his daughter’s death.

Neil wouldn’t discuss his daughter or her death. He also wouldn’t let people in. This damaged him in many ways.

The pain points in your past will challenge your potential future. They will distract you and pull you away from what matters.

Learn to deal with your past. Move through your hurts and pains. Work through them.

You won’t do this overnight. However, you have to deal with them at some point.

8. You have to course correct:

Neil was chosen to be part of the Gemini 8 team, along with pilot Scott Carpenter (Chandler Barron). Their mission was a manned space flight and docking with the Agena.

The Agena had been launched into space previously. They were to test the docking abilities. But there was a problem.

As they approached where the Agena should be, it wasn’t. They couldn’t see the spacecraft they were to dock with. This called for action.

Neil and Scott had to course correct their spacecraft to line up with the Agena. This required careful thought and adjustments.

As you get closer to your goals, you may see you’re not perfectly aligned to accomplish them. This is the time for course correction.

You will have to tweak the actions you are to take. You’ll have to see what needs to be lined up and what can be disregarded.

Don’t be ashamed of a course correction. Know all successful people have to correct their course at one point or another. Make the correction and find the success you were looking for!

9. Neil Armstrong:

No! I’ve got too much to do.

During the Gemini flight, Neil was asked for a status update. Neil abruptly told the NASA agent he wasn’t going to give him an update. He was busy and had work to do.

Could you imagine being told or telling someone no to a status update? If not, why not?

Neil made the right choice here. He was under an immense amount of pressure. He knew lives were at stake. And he knew where his focus needed to be.

Too often, you will let yourself get distracted by the desires of someone else where your focus needs to be elsewhere.

Learn to say no. Allow others to say no to you.

This is a hard lesson to learn and get under your built. Yet, if you do, this could be one of the most valuable leadership lessons you’ll ever learn.

10. The problem can be YOU:

After Neil and Scott docked with the Agena, the Gemini began to spin wildly out of control. Their first thought was the problem had to be with the Agena.

They disengaged from the Agena and sent the craft into space. Their ship continued to tumble and spin.

The issue wasn’t the Agena. The issue was their ship.

How often do we, as leaders, place the blame on an external factor. We may say:

The problem is the economy
Our people aren’t doing their jobs
Our customers have changed their buying habits

Leaders can struggle to pinpoint the cause of organizational troubles. They struggle because they’re unwilling to place the blame on the right person. Many times, organizational trouble comes from within. The person causing issues is often the leader.

Be willing to look at yourself and the other leaders in your organization. Are you willing to admit you might be causing the issue? You have to. It’s the sign of a strong leader.

11. Janet Armstrong (Claire Foy):

All I wanted was stability.

Janet was Neil Armstrong’s wife. Her desire in a marriage was for stability. In marrying Neil, she believed she was going to get this.

She was wrong. Their married life was anything but stable.

Life is a funny thing. We desire to be wealthy or successful or happy. Yet life rarely gives us what we want.

You have to be ready to accept what life throws at you. You won’t be happy all of the time or feel successful. You’ll face challenges and struggles.

That’s okay. That’s life. Learn to move and change with what’s given to you.

12. Success brings more responsibility:

The Gemini 8 space mission was considered a success by those at NASA. Because of this, Neil was asked to take on more responsibility.

He was asked to represent NASA at the White House. That’s a huge responsibility placed on Neil. He had to interact with high-ranking officials and government officials. His success brought more responsibility.

As you experience success after success, more is going to be expected from you. Your team members are going to look at you for more guidance. Those you report to (Yes, leaders still have leaders) are going to want you to produce more results.

Know your success will bring more responsibility, not less.

13. Neil Armstrong:

We need to fail down here so we don’t fail up there.

This Neil Armstrong quote sent shivers down my spine. Neil knew the reason to fail. He had to fail so he could learn what not to do when things really mattered.

Are you willing to let yourself and your team fail frequently in testing environments? Do you even have test environments where they can try new things?

Think about ways you can let your team members be free to fail so they can succeed in their responsibilities when it matters.

14. Your team often doesn’t realize the gravity of what’s happening:

Neil’s son asked him if he was going to the moon. Neil told his son he was. His son was barely phased by his dad’s response.

The son then asked if he could go outside. His son just wanted to play.

The prospect of going to the moon is huge. It was a massive goal for the United States at this point in time. Yet his son didn’t seem to care much.

Your team may not realize the gravity of what’s going on around them. They may see a merger, new major customer, or a credit default as just another day at the office.

You can help your team begin to see the gravity of what’s happening. Explain to them and let them know how important each and every interaction is. You’ll begin to change their attitudes when you let them in on the gravity of their work.

15. Neil Armstrong:

We’re planning on being successful.

Successful organizations don’t plan to fail. They plan to be successful. This was Neil Armstrong’s mindset. It has to be yours as well if you are going to be successful.

Do you need to change your mindset? Do you need to begin believing you can be successful? Make the change!

16. Buzz Aldrin (Cory Stoll):

What husband doesn’t want to give his wife bragging rights?

Buzz Aldrin was a small part in First Man. Yet his quote lays out a powerful truth.

Real husbands want to make their wives proud. They want to do what’s right and what will please their wife.

Look for ways to make your wife proud. What can you do to increase the chances your wife will brag about you? Think about that. Then get to doing.

17. People tune into greatness:

Do you know how many people watched and listened to what Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin did? Over 400 million people watched the first moon landing.

These people knew something great was about to happen. They didn’t want to miss it.

What are you doing that’s great? What are you doing that people want to tune into?

Figure out what it is you do well. Do it. And get people interested!

18. The individual matters:

There were many harsh critiques of First Man. Many of those centered around the missing United States flag. Yet the missing flag didn’t bother me because it was there. The viewer doesn’t see the moment the flag was planted on the moon.

The point of First Man wasn’t the moon landing. What First Man did was tell the story of a single man: Neil Armstrong.

You experience his highs and lows. You see him struggling and in pain. And you also get to see him set foot on the moon.

First Man wasn’t about a single event in Neil’s life. It was about his whole life.

Leaders can often focus so much on the organization they forget about the people in the organization. The individual members of your organization matter.

They each bring something special and unique to the workplace. You can’t ignore them, their lives, or their work.

Question: Have you seen First Man? If you have, what leadership lesson did you take away from the movie? If you haven’t seen the movie, what leadership lessons from First Man did you take away? Let us know in the comment section below.

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