Missing the point about Capt. Phillips and leadership

While I was in Virginia last week, I saw this interesting piece “When to Take a Bullet” in The Washington Post (here). The WP had solicited comments from leadership experts and started the conversation with this intro:

As the heroic captain Richard Phillips reminded us when he offered himself instead of his crew to the pirates, sea captains, like all good leaders, are expected to sacrifice themselves and their personal interests to protect those under their command.

The first response by Bob Schoultz made a great point about extended loyalty — to family, friends, and community — and how Capt. Phillips’ act showed solidarity and commitment to them. The second commenter — Elizabeth Sherman — used the incident to highlight another hero: religious freedom icon Anne Hutchinson. That was OK, though if the commenter had been most interested in promoting a female hero then perhaps Wangari Maathai might have been more on point (still alive, East African, and featured in the WP just the day before).

However, the last response took a gratuitously provocative tack. I’m not sure why Marty Linsky felt the need to oppose –at least implicity — Capt. Phillips vs. Anwar Sadat. I’ll grant Sadat wisdom and bravery in changing course. Lord knows, it is hard enough for me to admit I’m wrong about anything.

But why say that what Capt. Phillips did was “not exercising leadership at all” because that was what he was supposed to do? Let’s be clear: Sadat had been on a very different course only a few years before. The Yom Kippur War wasn’t exactly a constructive way to build a new route to Jerusalem.

Seeking peace after nearly seeing your armed forces destroyed made sense, but wasn’t that exactly what Sadat was supposed to do?

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