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The Leadership Thing

It really is the most elusive of qualities. It can’t be taught, yet it isn’t genetic either. So where do the qualities that make a great leader come from? And how do we get them?

I’ve been pondering this question a lot in the past few weeks, especially because of an interview I recently saw on the TODAY show. The interview was in advance of this weekend’s opening of a movie about his called “Captain Phillips.”

In the interview, the real-life captain of the Maersk-Alabama, who had been kidnapped by Somali pirates, talked about leadership. But the captain, Captain Richard Phillips of New England, did not respond to the question that Matt Lauer asked him about leadership in the way I expected. I thought he’d talk about his own leadership during the incident. But he did not.

Instead, he talked about the lead Somali pirate. “He was a good leader,” said Captain Phillips. “I told him that. He had the respect of his men and he commanded them well.” It was because of this, said Phillips, that he knew he was up against a real force.

The good captain’s comments reminded me that leadership, like fame and influence, can be used for good … or for evil. We have seen many examples of each over the years. The end result, whether used for bad or good, is the same though. Good leaders are effective–a “real force” as Captain Phillips would say.

He was an ordinary man living in obscurity when he became famous with a media magnifying glass over his life. Yet he remained a regular guy. The Captain was kind enough to give me an interview last September. It’s a little longer than most of the interviews you see on TV, but I think you will enjoy our conversation: