Leadership Lessons from the High Seas to the Business World

An advantage to my job is that I attend great meetings with even greater speakers. I recently had the honor of speaking at a meeting where the keynote speaker was Captain Rich Phillips … yes, the Captain Phillips of the 2013 movie of the same name. If you don’t know the story, he captained a cargo ship off the Somali coast when his ship was overtaken by pirates. He eventually helped free his boat and crew by getting into a lifeboat with the pirates as a hostage. After several days of standoff, the U.S. Navy got into the fight and, in a show of impressive marksmanship, killed the Somali pirates without injuring Captain Phillips. 

This highly-publicized incident made for a great modern day swashbuckling story, and the movie became a critical and box office success. But, there’s more to the story than a tale of high seas adventures. 

I had the opportunity to listen to Captain Phillips’ presentation and visit with him afterwards. I formed the picture of a man who is a leader — a leader whose mettle was proven in horrible conditions. Indeed, his book describing the ordeal is heavily focused on his obligation as a leader; it’s entitled, “A Captain’s Duty.” We’ve all been tested, but how many of us had our leadership abilities tested under such stressful conditions? Will we, can we, perform when the environment is so harsh? 

What I learned from Captain Phillips can be applied to business. Few, if any of us, will face the extreme conditions this captain faced, but the leadership qualities he demonstrated are transferrable to our own day-to-day business situations. 

  • You don’t have to be friends with your crew, but you have to earn their trust
  • Your job as a leader is to anticipate
  • The leader’s behaviors influence how others act
  • Stay strong

To learn more about these leadership qualities, view my recent posting in my Forbes column. Few successfully navigate the waters of business ownership without a major trial or two. These are good skills to practice even when the seas are calm. 

Steve Parrish is a regular contributor on Forbes.com, discussing issues and trends that impact business owners.