Thursday, September 28, 2006

Leadership Ideas from 'Master and Commander'

Leading Indicators

"A bishop is as much a spiritual father to his priests as he is to the laypeople. His leadership cannot be dictatorial. They must work together for the good of the Church. It doesn't mean that the bishop must be milquetoast either. It's not that different from good military leadership. A good officer is not a dictator, a martinet, but he also doesn't let himself sway in the wind of popular opinion.

"A good example is found in the Aubrey-Maturin books by Patrick O'Brian. Captain Jack Aubrey always solicits the input of his officers and even his regular sailors, but when the time comes to make a decision, he's the one who makes it. And if someone under his command should make a mistake, he's the one who takes ultimate responsibility.

"This is how a bishop should be. It's how a businessman should work too. (Hmm, maybe that would be a good book: 'Captain Jack Aubrey's lessons in leadership for business and life.')

-- Domenico Bettinelli, writing on "Anonymous petitions by priests in New York," Saturday, October 14, 2006 on the Web site
Leadership and Character in 'Master'

By John E. Carey
The Washington Times
November 23, 2003

A film playing on area screens gives new insight into the at-sea culture of 1805 Britain; and sadly, speaks volumes about the degenerated world we occupy in 21st century America. "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" strikes viewers as an old-fashioned sea saga that few thought Hollywood could still produce. This is not just a war movie but a lesson in leadership, teamwork and character.

Most movies today offer us pabulum and fantasy. They don't encourage us to greater good but instead emphasize the darker side of human conduct. Drug abuse, homosexuality and fantasy often fill the screen. Computer graphics so sophisticated they remove us from reality have enthralled Hollywood and thrilled viewers. Many of our "leading men" are pretty-boy weak sisters who may have a certain appeal to 14-year-old girls but have none of the raw manliness and power of John Wayne. Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Keanu Reeves come to mind, but they are not alone.

It seems Hollywood and television producers want us to worship the gay, lighthearted and without-depth in our culture today. Powerful men are largely taboo.
Fantasy films abound. Harry Potter, widely heralded as a wonderful yarn for today's kids, features wizards, pre-pubescent children and magic. Trailers on today's screens attempt to attract Christmas season viewers to a remake of "Peter Pan." I have news, kids: You cannot fly without going through airport security, and if you dive out your bedroom window in your pajamas your death will be listed as a suicide.

The world is a tough place. No amount of escapism or fantasy will help you overcome obstacles. "Master and Commander's" leading man, and he is exactly that, is Russell Crowe. He's tough. He's manly. He's focused on his mission. He believes in duty, leadership and discipline. He is all over his ship: teaching seamanship, supervising gunnery drills to shave seconds off the reload time. And he climbs to the top of the mainmast for a better chance of finding his foe.

He never gives up and he wouldn't know the meaning of the phrases "striking the colors" or "backing down."

And guess what? His men love him. Crowe as Capt. Jack Aubrey tells a troubled subordinate that the men actually want toughness and leadership. This weak-sister subordinate kills himself because he can deliver neither. He is only suited for "Peter Pan" movies.

This is not a movie review but a reflection of culture over time. The decade of the 1990s featured President Bill Clinton and his motto: "tolerance." In 1805, British naval commanders had little patience for tolerance or any other such notions. They knew the world is a dangerous and tough place in which to maintain an empire. They accomplished their mission of defending the empire (against often vastly greater numbers).

Those lounging in the baths of ancient Rome had fun, no doubt, but they aren't remembered for building the empire but for destroying it though debauchery and corruption. The people who built the Roman Empire were centurions.

Russell Crowe plays an 1805 centurion in "Master and Commander." He embraces defending the empire using his men and the time-tested attributes of training, hard work, unflinching standards, leadership and teamwork.

Today America is the only "empire" or superpower. Believe it. We won't stay in this exalted place in history long without a little toughness.

And where in America do we see Jack Aubrey's character building attributes today? In the NFL or NBA? Hardly. These professional athletes are overpaid false heroes. The headline grabbing among some superstars cannot possibly contribute to teamwork and the antics both on the playing surface and off cannot give our youth positive role models. The message from these "big leagues" is that if you are good enough you can make millions of dollars and get away with murder.

The crews of ships-of-the-line in 1805 had to operate as a team. Cramped, fed poor food, and living daily in the hostile sea environment, a crew only made any real money if it captured a "prize." This meant boarding an enemy ship with flintlock and cutlass in hand and wresting an enemy ship from an equally determined foe. This was grisly, dangerous work, but the payoff would be a share in the net worth of the captured vessel. Maybe each man would get the equivalent of a few hundred dollars in gold.

More subtle themes in "Master and Commander" include mentoring youngsters, reading for the joy of learning and the pleasures of studying nature and the sciences.

We can't go back to the Royal Navy of 1805 nor should we try. Winston Churchill once said "rum, buggery and the lash" were old Royal Navy traditions. We don't need to go there.

What we should do is re-instill some of Capt. Jack Aubrey's watchwords into our culture. Duty, leadership, hard work, sacrifice and teamwork are still pretty good characteristics to develop.

And let's not let "tolerance" continue down the road toward "anything goes." Perhaps the word we should use to replace "tolerance" is "standards."