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Monica Wofford, CSP, is a professional speaker and CEO of Contagious Companies, a training and consulting firm that develops better leaders and trains managers how to become better leaders.

If you had been Captain Phillips, what would you do and would they have followed you?

The movie Captain Phillips is in theaters nationwide and as often happens I saw many a leadership lesson in this movie. Though it was Hollywood-ized, the lessons on being a powerful leader in times of crisis are incredible and the entire movie made me wonder, if your department, company or team were under “attack” or facing hard times, would your crew follow you. If so, or if not, here are three ways to boost employee loyalty and be the kind of leader they would follow.

Address the Issues

It is no secret that Captain Phillips’ boat is overtaken by pirates. Every trailer shows you the premise of the movie and some of us remember it from the news in 2009. What you don’t see is the reaction of the crew when news of the impending attack is known boat-wide. One crew member immediately states that he is a “union man” and not paid enough to fight off armed pirates. Captain Phillips hears him out, listens to his complaint and presents a solution. He doesn’t shy away from the reality that danger is near. He clarifies how much he needs the crew to cooperate and in what way and he does it all without begging, cajoling or sugar coating anything. What are the real issues that maybe you’ve swept under a proverbial rug or danced around and never come out and addressed as the leader. Is there an issue for which you need to take a bold stand as the leader? Is there an employee direction that needs to be clarified? Respect that you need to earn? Maybe it’s time to revisit those issues and address them openly.

Stay Calm

It would be hard to stay as level headed as Captain Phillips appeared to be in the early stages of this situation. Yet, much like all of our other leadership behaviors, your demeanor, calm or crazed, is contagious. Keeping a level head in all situations is important for employees as they look to you to determine how to behave. This is not the same as being or becoming an unfeeling robot leader with no emotional display orfany kind. This is about staying calm under pressure and keeping your wits about you so that you can A) assess the best solution and B) get or direct others to where they need to be. Employees are looking to follow your lead, but to be their leader in the hard times, you have to be able to lead your emotions AND your actions.

Protect Them

The trailers also show that Captain Phillips gets in the lifeboat with the pirates, so I’m not spoiling anything here, I promise. What you don’t see, that also won’t take away from you seeing the movie, is that when the lifeboat leaves, the USS Alabama follows it until help arrives. It is my hope that as a leader you’re never faced with a situation quite this dire, but the reality is we face tough calls and tough decisions as leaders every day. There are layoffs for which you can provide references or recommendations? Job terminations for which you can reach out to your network and find new jobs for those who are good performers. What do you do to protect those that report to you while still being real, truthful, and brave? When you protect those that report to you in the ways you can the chances of them following you are much greater. How can you protect those you lead?

Leadership is a position of power, privilege and responsibility. It’s easy to be a good leader when times are good, but much as you find out who your friends are when the chips are down and stress is high, you find out what kind of leader you are when the same happens in your organization. If times got tough in your workplace, would those who report to you follow you and have you cultivated an environment in which they would want to? I’m Monica Wofford and that’s your Monday Moment. Have a great week, an even better Monday, and of course, stay contagious!


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