Leadership Lessons from TNT’s “Last Ship”

I love word pictures.  I love visuals.  I tend to learn from movies or television really well.  It influences me.  In fact, I have to be very careful what I watch because of how influential it can be such that a morbid, depressing or a negative shown too graphically kind of movie can invoke bad feelings or put me in a bad place.    I watched TNT’s “Last Ship” (LS) last night and it was a powerful episode.  It invoked pensive inspiration in me.  I had to write about it!

The quick synopsis of LS is that there is a pandemic virus that has wiped out most of the world’s population.  A Navy vessel was out to sea when it broke out. They found and teamed up with a researcher to find the cure.  Once inoculated the rest of the episodes have been about their quest to find their families and in doing so find out the status of America and now to restore order and hope to America.  Currently the episodes are about them finding the current President of the United States.  The character of the man they now call President was the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development until the pandemic virus broke out.  To give you an idea of who this man is the current role is filled by a man named Julián Castro.  He is the 16th Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development sworn in on July 28, 2014. In this role, our character would have overseen 8,000 employees and a budget of $46 billion.  In the show, when all members of the executive branch, judicial and legislative were killed by the virus he was technically the next one in line to take over the Presidency.  Our character is a good strong man with a sad story of a decision he felt he needed to make to protect his girls and his wife from the extreme suffering the virus brings.  He found a narrative he could identify with that helped him cope with his decision.  A narrative that made him feel better about why he had to make that decision, a narrative that helped him cope with the memory of that decision.  When pulled out of that narrative he tried to kill himself.

Thankfully, Captain Chandler’s character is also a good strong man and taking the advice of the Master Chief, also a good strong man, he gave the President a more compelling narrative and he gave him empathy, trust and belief.  As the President began embracing his role as Commander and Chief and President of the United States he had been very unsure of himself.  It came out how unsure he was of himself in this new role in this recent episode when he went to the mess hall to meet some of the crew for the first time and couldn’t actually bring himself to go around and shake hands with anyone let alone decide what he wanted to eat for lunch.  He gracefully got out of the situation.  He then opened up conversation with Master Chief about his lack of confidence in himself by commenting that he was supposed to be able to make decisions for an entire country and he couldn’t even make a decision about what to eat for lunch.  Captain Chandler had asked Master Chief to follow the President and be whatever he needed father, son, brother, preacher whatever he needed to be to the President that was needed.  The levels and layers of leadership are evident.  Chandler is a strong leader, Master Chief is a strong leader, so is the President when he comes around.  And he does…

Master Chief asks the President how many people worked for him when he was in his position with the State.  He changed course when the President balked at that question.  He instead said something interesting, the Navy has been studying leadership since 1776 and knows a lot about it.  He said between the “XO, the Captain and myself, we have 67 years of leadership experience behind us”.  He was basically reading off his credentials to give weight to what he was about to say to the President.  He first showed the President that these 3 aforementioned men were men to be inspired by, in awe of, respected so the following message would be read loud and clear.  We are worthy, and we who are worthy believe you are also worthy.  He shot him with hope.  Leaders are not born, they are made, he told the President. We believe in you, he said.  What a dose of hope and encouragement.  A few scenes in, it is evident that the President was inoculated with such courage and confidence that he commits to the task at hand.  The task of becoming that leader for the country that Captain Chandler and the rest believe him to be.   No small task and he began by taking A step.   He made a decision to make himself.  He then broke down his journey into bite size pieces.  He was eating the elephant one bite at a time.

1. He got educated as educated as he could.  He read reports from the Navy’s journey since the pandemic outbreak of the virus.  He read up on the “job description” of the President essentially, then he asked to read more reports upon reports, any military intelligence they had obtained.

2. He sought out to understand the current situation.  He briefed himself on reality.  He observed reality, those in the field, those doing the hard work.

3. He trusted and believed that he would know what to do next if he didn’t already know.   The next decision he made was to take the reins and give the US Navy a plan for taking back America!

It was so powerful to watch this episode and see so many wonderful leadership lessons play out!  A leader is made not born over bits and pieces of decisions, observations, experiences, passions lit, hopes squelched a leader never ceases being on the journey to being a leader and along the way they never cease leading.