Captain Jack Aubrey
Master & Commander
A Leader in Action

In the film “Master & Commander"™, Captain Jack Aubrey is the master of HMS Surprise during the Napoleonic wars. He has orders to prevent a French vessel from taking the wars to the Pacific Ocean.

This is one of the best leadership movies I know. Jack Aubrey offers us some excellent examples of leadership in the workplace - despite him being onboard an early nineteenth century warship. But thats Hollywood for you.

  1. Clarity of purpose

  2. Jack has a single-minded focus on his purpose. All of his decisions are held up against the goal of his enterprise and his plans are developed with the goal in mind. This is an essential leadership characteristic. Jack adapts his plans to achieve his goal, and adopts new and innovative approaches in its pursuit.

  3. Shares leadership

  4. Jack gives less experienced officers the chance to lead tasks, sections and areas. On occasions these tasks are at a level above that which would normally be expected of the officer’s rank.

  5. Keeps an overview

  6. While he is quite at home in the detail of any task, and is an expert in seamanship, gunnery, etc, Jack Aubrey keeps himself in a position where he can retain the overview. He makes sure that those with any specific responsibility keep him informed.

  7. Circulates

  8. Regularly circulating around all areas under his control, Jack keeps himself well informed and uses his time in each area to praise and encourage his crew.

  9. Builds team spirit

  10. Jack brings his officers together on formal and social occasions. He shares his goals with them, explains his thinking & decisions and wins their support. And he has fun without going so far as to lose control or respect.

  11. Decisive

  12. Jack questions others to get the information he needs, and to understand their thinking. When he has weighed up the options and their consequences he selects the course of action that is most in keeping with his goal. He is willing to take very tough decisions if they serve the goals or the greater good; even to lose individual crew members in the process.

  13. Standards

  14. Jack sets standards, reinforces them and then raises them. He expects everybody to work to the standards laid down. He praises and recognises those who achieve this, and rewards those who go beyond the minimum standard expected. He also disciplines those who fall below the standard.

  15. Trains & coaches others

  16. Jack ensures that there is an ongoing training programme for officers and crew. He himself coaches and encourages individuals, even when they are some ranks lower than him.

  17. Takes control

  18. When others are indecisive, Jack takes control of situations and gives clear direction. Again, his decisions are based on his higher-level goals. He then coaches the indecisive officers themselves, to develop their capability and judgement.

  19. Pride

  20. Jack shows, and engenders, pride in his crew and in his command.

  21. Shares his thinking

  22. The ship’s surgeon is a friend of Jack’s and is not a serving officer. Jack shares his anxieties with him, rather than with those he is responsible for leading. In front of officers and crew he shows strength of character, albeit with sensitivity.

  23. Celebrates success

  24. When small achievements are made along the way, Jack creates and encourages celebrations for officers and crew.

  25. Inspires others

  26. Jack addresses his officers and crew to explain the purpose of their enterprise, especially before battle. His speeches create belief and commitment, and something worthwhile to aspire towards.

Jack Aubrey is only one example of fictional leaders who can teach us something about leadership. Contact me to tell me about your favourite and I will publish your observations on this site.

Master & Commander™ & © 2003 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and Universal Studios and Miramax Film Corp.

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