Leadership Styles in Apollo 13: Movie Review

For some audiences, the movie Apollo 13 is just a story of a space exploration that faces multiple challenges. Undoubtedly, several instances of tragic occurrences in the mission are evident, including the explosion of one of the spacecraft’s liquid oxygen tanks and leakage of another container. While the movie Apollo 13 takes the twist of a space mission that would have been catastrophic, the film can educate the audience about different leadership styles, including transformational and servant-leadership.

Transformational leadership is a dominant style of management in the movie Apollo 13. According to scholars, transformational leadership “is inspiring and creative, and leads people in a way that they try more than their abilities in the organization” (Korejan & Shahbazi, 2016, p. 453). Hence, transformational leaders articulate new ideas, influence subordinates to follow, and put in extra effort to achieve the desired outcomes. As Kelly (2013) notes, problem solving process should entail a problem and then a solution. For instance, Jim Lovell, the mission’s commander, encourages his team to develop ideas of solving the problem that had befallen the spacecraft. Notably, Lovell asks his crew to create a contingency plan to mitigate adversities that would occur ones the craft lost communication with Houston, the ground control center. Most likely, the space crew had developed a significant dependency on Houston for their full functioning. However, as a transformational leader, Lovell encourages them to conceptualize plans that would help them function effectively in the absence of support from the Houston crew. In addition, Lovell’s decision to instruct Jack, the back-up pilot, to visit the Odyssey and insulate with water to prevent the area from freezing is a characteristic of a creative and innovative leader. Based on information from such scenes, it is evident that Lovell demonstrates transformational leadership by empowering his crew to exploit their different potential and capabilities to develop an alternative way of facilitating a successful return to earth.

In addition to transformational leadership, the servant leadership style is dominant in various scenes of the movie. A servant leader is described as an individual who portrays the natural behavior of serving and leading (Ragnarsson, Kristjansdottir & Gunnarsdottir, 2018). Lovell values communication, and while making critical decisions, he exhibits awareness of the way his choices may affect the followers. In the movie Apollo 13, the servant leadership style is exhibited when Lovell considers the surgeon’s concerns regarding Mattingly alleged exposure to measles. Despite being the craft’s commander, Lovell listens to the surgeon’s views, a trait that is prevalent among servant leaders. The leadership style is also exhibited when Lovell involves the ground-control center in making a prompt decision to return the crew safely back to earth. Such a move shows that Lovell is full of empathy for his team and he values their safety over the mission. Hence, Lovell’s listening and empathy traits clearly indicate a servant leadership style in the movie.

Overall, the movie Apollo 13 illustrates multiple leadership styles, including transformational and servant leadership. Transformational leadership is exhibited in the scenes when Lovell develops a creative plan of preventing the Odyssey from freezing, while encouraging his crew to create innovative ideas of returning to earth safely. Additionally, servant leadership is portrayed in Lovell’s empathy and listening traits. While the above movie efficiently illustrates the two leadership styles, the film also offers insights on leadership, including the need for a leader to be innovative and a risk-taker.



Kelly, Patricia. (2013). Nursing Leadership & Management, 3rd Edition. Clifton Park, NY. Delmar Cengage Learning.

Korejan, M., & Shahbazi, H. (2016). An analysis of the transformational leadership theory. Journal of Fundamental and Applied Sciences, 8(3s), 452-461.

Ragnarsson, S., Kristjansdottir, E., & Gunnarsdottir, S. (2018). To be accountable while showing care: The lived experience of people in a servant leadership organization. SAGE, 8(3), 1-12.

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