Like many Americans, I was transfixed by the story of the hijacking of the freighter Maersk Alabama since Somali pirates first boarded by force last Wednesday. The larger story of piracy in the region fascinates, of course, but the leadership story of Captain Richard Phillips compels discussion. If the media accounts are anywhere near accurate, if ever there were a leader who engendered loyalty in his followers through the coolness of his thinking and the quality of his character, that leader would be Captain Richard Phillips.
To recap for anyone who may have missed it: when the unarmed crew of the freighter knew it was being boarded by pirates bristling with arms and armaments, the captain’s greatest concern was the safety of his crew. When he was taken hostage, his loyal crew credited him with saving their lives at the risk of his own. From all accounts, no one was more joyful at his safe return after a grueling ordeal in a small boat in a large ocean was that same crew. After all, Phillips had volunteered to be taken hostage to reduce the risk of capture, injury and death to the seamen who worked for him.
Now think about the captains of the ships of industry afloat – or awash – on the pirate-infested seas of our global economy. How many of their crews believe that their captain is personally willing to off-load risks from the workers onto themselves? How many of their crews believe that the captain is truly trying to keep them safe? What are they looking to as evidence of the leader’s willingness and ability to care for his or her followers?