15 Lessons From The Movie: In The Heart Of The Sea


In his last TEDxGaborone talk, Timothy Maurice Webster says (to paraphrase) that we need to be intentional in building our own brand narrative and that part of doing that is among others through education, (the books we read and write), our norms and standards and the media (through television and movies).

During the past festive holidays I watched a couple of movies with the intention of entertainment but also with the hidden agenda of looking at the impact that movies have on people as part of creating brand narrative as Timothy puts it.

Movies are powerful. Timothy is right, movies are a useful tool in creating a perception, a narrative about people, their views and over time their beliefs.

Having watched several movies, one of the movies that stood out is In The Heart Of The Sea. I would like to highlight some of the lessons from the movie.

The facts: In the 18th century it became known that many whales, particularly the mighty sperm whale, bore liquid gold in their bodies. Whale oil, plumbed from the great head of a sperm whale, proved to be the most efficient lighting and heating oil around. The world loved this clean-burning, efficient liquid, and whaling became one of the great industries of the time. Whale hunting became the most sought after activity in the quest to be rich, much like mineral mining today.

The story: The whaleship called Essex was rammed and sunk by an angry sperm whale, leaving the desperate crew to drift for more than ninety days in three tiny boats. The story is about survival and of courageous leadership. It is the story of two constrasting styles of leadership between the Ship captian (George Pollard) and the ship team leader (Owen Chase)

The following are 15 Leadership Quotes and Lessons From In The Heart Of The Sea:

1. Skill Builds Influence – Shortly after setting out to sea, a crisis developed with one of the ship’s sails.  Chase (the team leader)  immediately sprung into action, solved the problem and garnered immediate respect from the crew members. At some point leaders need to show some form of skills and lead by example.

2. Successful Relationships Are Built Upon A Foundation Of Trust And Respect – The unprepared Pollard (Essex ship captain) was lacking confidence upon being named captain.  Its important to establish trust and respect first through conduct first so that people can and will follow you.

3. Brevity Is A Leader’s Friend – Pollard was beginning to insult the crew with the amount and type of questions he was asking them.  One of his shipmates advised him,

“Sometimes the fewer questions one asks the better.”

4. Leaders Must Put People Above Production – While clarity and focusing on results are good, they should never come at the expense of your people.  In a fit of rage, Pollard said, “You exist for one thing and one thing only – the oil.”

In an effort to demonstrate his authority, Pollard stubbornly sent his crew into an oncoming storm despite the advice of all his team leader. His excuse being that he wants his crew to be shaken a bit.

People first before results. Once you have the right people, results become critical.

You will not achieve results without people and you will not be a successful leader with out results.

As Jim Collins puts it in book Good to Great: “First who, then what.” Get the right people first and then set out to sail

5. Leaders Know There Is A Difference Between Position And Influence – Chase (the team leader) had influence with the crew because of his skill, expertise and the previous accomplishment.  Pollard was reluctantly followed only because of his title of captain.

6. If You Have To Tell People You Are The Leader, You Are Not The Leader – After the ship suffered much damage from the storm, Pollard yelled, “My name is Captain George Pollard!  Pollard!”

If you have to remind people who you are, maybe, just maybe you are not.

7. A Lack Of Leadership Unity Destroys A Team – Recounting the ship’s culture, a surviving crewman said,

“A newly married couple can tolerate each other.  A newly married couple can bring down a ship.”

8. Greed Causes Leaders To Focus On Themselves, Not Their Teams – After being told there were countless whales several thousand miles into the Pacific, both Chase and Pollard set sail hoping to become instantly wealthy.  A crewman said,

“Greed took hold of our captain and first mate.”

Greed causes leaders to make foolish decisions. The crewman continued,

“Centuries ago people feared sailing off the edge of the earth.  We were sailing off the edge of insanity.”

9. During Times Of Crisis People Default To Personal Survival – While stranded in a lifeboat, one crewman said of an injured one, “Why waste water on a dead man?”

In times of crisis usually the mode changes to: Everyone for himself, God for us all.

It is the job of the leader to keep unity at all times especially during difficult times. I think Chase did an amazing job of keeping team unity especially after their ship was destroyed by the giant whale.

10. Smart Leaders Value Accountability And Seek It Out

“The devil loves unspoken secrets, especially those that fester in a man’s soul.”

11. Christian Leaders Not Only Prepare For The Next Month Or Quarter.  They Prepare For Eternity. – A dying crewman said,

“It is a privilege to know one’s death before it occurs and prepare for it.”

12. Humbleness Is An Attractive Quality For Leaders To Have – Pollard finally admitted to Chase,

“You were born to do this job (captain a ship).  I was just born into it.”

13. Not Everyone Takes The Journey With The Leader – After repairing their life boats while stranded on an island, three crewman elected to remain there rather than journey back out to sea. Not everyone who starts the journey with you, will end with you. However true to his word, after successfully journeying back home, Chase went back to island to fetch the men who were left behind. True leaders stick to their words, and like Simon Sinek says in the title of his book “Leaders eat last.”

A leader never leaves his men stranded, an injury to one is an injury to all. A leader is only satisfied when his men have all eaten, only then he can eat.

Chase was never going to be satisfied until he went to back to rescue the men who were  stranded at the island.

14. Successful Leaders Take Only Calculated Risks – Upon arriving back into Nantucket several years later, the ship’s owners said to both Pollard and Chase,

“In any business, the probability of success must be greater than the risk.”

Its good to take risks, but it has to carefully thought-though risks.

15. Leaders Must Have Courage

“The courage to go where one does not want to go.”

Captain George Pollard: We will surely perish out there.

Owen Chase: We might also survive.

Everything rises and falls on leadership, everything.

I’m sure there are more lessons from this movie for those who watched it. Feel free to share on the comment section.


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