My favourite scene from Captain America: The Winter Soldier is known as “Captain’s Orders.” I’m not going into all the details here, because I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t seen it. In this scene, Captain America tells a group of people a difficult truth that goes against what they believe. He then asks them to take courageous action based on that truth. And they do it. Why? Because the Cap asked them to.
If I had seen this in any other movie with any other character, I would have rolled my eyes. In today’s environment, where we have lost faith in so many of our leaders, who would act based on one person’s word? But it works. Because this is Captain America as played by the talented Chris Evans. And his character has unquestionable integrity.
Anyone who’s worked in the corporate world knows how difficult it is to maintain your integrity, especially when you are in a leadership position. My worst experience as a manager was a time when I disagreed with upper management’s direction but needed to inspire my staff to follow it. I had to separate out the corporate message from my message, and speak to what I believed—because I needed to hold on to my integrity. At the end of the day, I’m the one who has to look at myself in the mirror.
Since that time, I’ve been careful to avoid putting myself in that situation. I try to live one of my favourite sayings from Gandhi: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” This is the best statement on integrity I have ever seen. But it’s difficult to follow. So it’s good that I have many captains to look to for inspiration. Captain America may be the best of the bunch, but he’s not the only captain out there with integrity. What about Captain Picard of Star Trek: TNG or David Weber’s Honor Harrington? Speculative fiction abounds with captains who lead with integrity. And we can learn a lot about leadership and communication from them. Here are three things that I have learned:
Let them see who you are
The more genuine you are in your communications, the more your team will relate to you. Everything you say should come from your heart. This can make you feel vulnerable, but it will support you through difficult times. Don’t try to pretty things up or try on a different personality. People can sense when you are being yourself, and will respect you for it. As Captain Picard tells us, “If we’re going to be damned, let’s be damned for who we really are.”
Communicate with a clear intent
Do you have a purpose for communicating that you believe in? Your agenda in speaking should be clear to you and your team. I’ve written in the past about Captain America’s direct communication style. This goes beyond style and into substance. Having an influential speaking style is not going to get you anywhere if people do not see your belief. Get out from under the corporate speak and say what you mean.
Tell the truth, but don’t feel like you have to tell everything
There are some things you just have to keep to yourself. If communicating something will make things worse for people, don’t say it. Talk about what will help, not what will hurt. If Honor Harrington always told her crew the truth about upcoming spaceship battles (“We are almost certainly going to die”), they would never triumph against the odds. Holding a harmful truth close to your chest is not a lie—it is an expression of your values.
The most important lessons in life are basic truths that you can post on your office wall. Walk the talk. Think, speak, and act in harmony. Value your people. And make your captain proud.
Thank you to Andrew Knighton, whose post on self-publishing and integrity inspired me to write this.
How do you maintain your integrity at home or at work? Are there captains in your life or in fiction that inspire you?
8 thoughts on “Would Your Captain Be Proud?”
Couldn’t agree more (duh, surprise!). I recently read Russ Harris’s The Confidence Gap, and in that he defines success not as fulfilling your goals or targets but as living by your values. I think it’s a lesson we can all take to heart.
On the other side of this thing, how awesome is Captain America? I wasn’t at all interested in the character until I read Mark Millar’s take on him in the Ultimates comics, but Chris Evans is the one who’s really made me care. I’m no American, no patriot, no fan of military power, but he invests the character with such openness and integrity that those qualities become his core value and meaning, and it’s an admirable meaning.
Chris Evans’s take on Captain America is amazing. When I heard about the first Cap movie, I worried that the character would be bland, annoying, and self-righteous. Instead I finally got a character that I could root for without reservation. It makes me wish that Captain America was real. We all need more of that openness and integrity in our lives.
An inspiring post, Sue–filled with those thoughts that need to be sewn bone deep repeatedly until they are purely a part of us on a molecular level.
I adore the Gandhi quote. It’s utterly simple and beautiful plain speak. Nothing magical, just polished common sense.
And thank you for the tips on communication as well. It’s so easy to get bogged down with one’s message–to the point where the message is so deeply buried no one can identify it with the fluffage that surrounds it. Again, it’s the bare bones of words and the purity of raw and open remarks.
Cheers to you, Ms. Archer!
Thanks, Shelley. I’m glad you liked the Gandhi quote—I agree, it’s so simple that it strikes you immediately when you hear it (like all of the best sayings). Here’s to a year filled with common sense!
Hi Sue, great post! Honest, straightforward, clear, and direct. That’s what I always try to be. I agree that you have to be true to yourself and your own values. I love that Gandhi quote too.
Thanks, Lori! It’s a great quote, isn’t it? I’ve had it in my email signature for a while—I haven’t found another one that surpasses it yet. 🙂
At the risk of repeating what everyone else has said, that is just a beautiful quote from Ghandi – I’m surprised I’d never heard it before. It’s so simple – but gosh, so darn hard to do! And likewise for the Captain Picard quote – which is just as hard to do in real life.
One of the things I love about stories is their power and ability to shape their readers / watchers and influence people. Your post is such a great example of that!
Thanks so much, Celine! That Captain Picard quote is great, too, isn’t it? There were a lot of good sayings in that show.
It really is amazing how much a good story has the power to influence us. The best stories are never forgotten, no matter how old we get. I think children’s stories in particular can be very powerful. That’s why I don’t understand why people are often dismissive of them (“Oh, they’re just children’s stories”). It’s good to be open to wonder and hope. I think that’s why I have a special place in my heart for speculative fiction. 🙂