Would Your Captain Be Proud?

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.

Would you follow this man? I know I would. Chris Evans in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Would you follow this man? I know I would.

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.

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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?

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Which Avenger will you be today?

With Captain America: The Winter Soldier out in theatres, I have Marvel superheroes on the brain. And I’ve realized that Marvel’s The Avengers is not just a story about a superhero team—it’s a story about communication.

Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury spends the first half of the Avengers movie gathering the team and trying to get them to work together. This is an uphill battle, largely because of the team members’ different communication styles. They may be talking to each other, but they are not communicating. It’s only when they learn to adjust their styles that they become an effective fighting force.

If you want to work well with your own team, you may need to adjust your communication style. Ask yourself: Which Avenger should I be today?

Let’s take a look at some of your options.

Iron Man

“The Avengers. It’s what we call ourselves, sort of like a team. ‘Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ type of thing.”

Iron Man (Tony Stark)

Communication Style: Informal

Iron Man is the life of the party. He’s the casual genius who talks a lot and makes people laugh. It’s time to be Iron Man when you are hanging out with good friends and colleagues or writing a friendly note to someone you know well. Just be careful you don’t let your words run away from you—sometimes Iron Man can talk too much and annoy supervillains. Bad idea.

Thor from the Avengers

“So you take the world I love as recompense for your imagined slights?”

Thor

Communication Style: Formal

Thor is a Norse god, so he uses formal language and makes solemn pronouncements. You may need to channel Thor when you are speaking with strangers, apologizing to unhappy customers, or writing up a business proposal. Just don’t come across as too formal—otherwise you’ll be known as the unfriendly person with the scary hammer.

Captain America

“I went under, the world was at war, I wake up, they say we won. They didn’t say what we lost.”

Captain America (Steve Rogers)

Communication Style: Direct

Captain America is honest and straightforward. He comes from a military background, so he’s used to getting to the point. Be Captain America with managers and executives—they love quick messages that tell it like it is (otherwise known as executive summaries). You may need to tweak this style when you feel the need to be tactful. Otherwise, it’s good to be the Cap.

Hulk

“Hulk smash!”

Hulk (NOT Bruce Banner)

Communication Style: Authoritative

When all else fails, it’s time to be the Hulk. Get your green on when you need to let people know it’s your way or the highway. You may want to use more words than the Hulk, though. And possibly not smash as many things. Especially if you want people to ever talk to you again.

So, there you have it. Different communication styles work well for different situations. What are you going to face today? Who are you going to need to be? Maybe you should try a new style on for size. Then you, too, can be part of a mighty team.

Which Avenger will you be today? Inquiring minds want to know…