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The Movie “Master and Commander”

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The movie “Master and Commander ” depicts the five practices of leadership – modeling the way, inspiring a shared vision, challenging the process, enabling others to act, and encouraging the heart.

In the movie, Jack Aubrey, Captain of battleship HMS Surprize, models the way by staying focused in his mission to defeat Napoleons battleship named Acheron. For example, at the beginning of the movie he never second-guesses his lower ranking soldier who heralds spotting the enemy. Instead he re-assures his claims and stays on guard, further investigating the possibility of the enemy within the dense fog. Captain Aubrey models the way by remaining alert, focused, disciplined in catching sight of the enemy. He models the way in strong leadership, resulting in saving the lives of crewmembers from the unexpected attack of Asheron.

Another example of modeling the way is when Captain Aubrey sees one of his officers being disrespected. He quickly responds to the insubordination with strict discipline. He models the way through the ranks, first in mentoring his officer and then following through promptly by punishing the lower-ranking sailor with lashes. His Lieutenant returns to the shipmates’ quarters, where subordinates stand to attention and salute, following protocol to superior rank as expected.

Unfortunately, the lieutenant shows weak leadership and fails to model the way. Instead of building upon the leadership displayed by his Captain, he cowers in fear, leading to his suicide.

The next step of exemplary leadership is to inspire a shared vision. At the beginning of the movie, the battleship is almost destroyed and in spite of the damages they do not return to dock but continue to sail. Jack Aubrey inspires his vision by uniting his crewmembers to accomplish the orders to sink, burn or capture Napoleons vessel. The crew repair damages from Asheron’s cannons, gunners continue to train for battle and business continues as normal on HMS Surprize.

The ships doctor Stephen Maturin is a good friend of Aubrey and is known for offering him advice. He often disagrees with the Captains determination in battle and argues vehemently against the lashes given to one of the shipmates. Though the tension between the two heightens, Aubrey’s vision to defeat the enemy eventually inspires the doctor. One day after much introspect Jack Aubrey decides to dock the ship at an exotic island, at the request of his doctor friend, who wants to research rare species. During his exploration on the island, Maturin discovers the enemy ship, while climbing atop a hill chasing a rare bird. Immediately, Maturin abandons the cages with the exotic creatures he collected and rushes back aboard the ship nearly killing himself. He informs Aubrey of his discovery on the opposite side of the island. The writer believes, that the doctor’s decision to abandon the majority of his prized research and get back on the ship was attributed to the respect he had gained for Captain Aubrey. He no longer cared about himself but was overtaken with his leaders vision concerning the mission of HMS Surprize.

The third leadership quality Captain Aubrey displayed was challenging the process. Soon after their first battle, the crew encountered a heavy storm at sea where the ship took heavy blows from wind and rain. The torrent caused the ships’ mast to topple over into the ocean with crewmembers thrown overboard fighting to survive. A drastic decision had to be made by the Captain in order to save the vessel. He had to sever the ropes that held the sails crewmembers clung to for their lives. He made a crucial decision knowing that all his people are watching in horror, as their co-sailors are lost at sea. His choice was not easy but if he chose not to cut the ropes all 196 sailors aboard would have died. Captain Aubrey challenged the process in his leadership during that storm but it is obvious throughout the rest of the movie that he keeps the loyalty of his crew.

The writer believes Captain Aubrey enables others to act throughout the entire film. There are intense battles, raging waters, contentious seamen, and many times horrible diseases. There is a scene at the Captains’ table where there are maggots in the food that is served. All these conditions were a challenge for Jack Aubrey in keeping good morale, enabling his crew to perform their duties.

Finally the fifth leadership of encouraging the heart can be seen by how Captain Aubrey interacts with the crew – especially the children on the ship. During the first battle one child gets injured badly and Aubrey is there to encourage this child during surgery. He even takes his uniform off to help assist the doctor in the gruesome task of amputating the young boys arm. Jack then encourages this boy with kind words of hope about the boy’s future on the ship. It is interesting to see how the children and the older crewmembers talk good about their commander. There is one scene where a group of sailors tell stories how “Lucky” Jack Aubrey grew up on HMS Surprize. They swap stories about his bravery and his promotions all the way up the chain of command. The children look up to the Captain because he shows genuine concern and interaction with them. Encouraging the hearts of his followers pays off in the end; when sailors young and old show their loyalties to their commander with a collaborate victory against the Acheron. In conclusion, Captain Jack Aubrey displays the five practices of exemplary leadership by modeling the way, inspiring a shared vision, challenging the process, enabling others to act, and encouraging the heart.

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