“Crisis doesn’t necessarily make character, but it certainly reveals it.” 
–John Maxwell, leadership and management author
Recently, we have witnessed and celebrated the heroics of two captains.  The first was Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, who successfully landed his jet on the Hudson River and then made sure that every passenger was safely out of the cabin before stepping to safety himself.   The other was Captain Richard Phillips.  He surrendered himself to pirates off the coast of Africa to protect his crew.  These incidents could have been tragic, but they turned out okay.

Both captains were in positions of leadership.  They were responsible for the lives of others.  And, when tested under the most stressful of circumstances, they demonstrated great character.  They both put others ahead of themselves, risking their own lives in the process.   The two men further demonstrated good character after the fact.  Many of us were struck by their genuine humility and thought it was so nice to see them recognize others involved in their two miracles—the “true heroes,” as they called them.

In an editorial following the rescue, three different leadership scholars commented on the actions of Captain Phillips.  One of them said, “Wow.  What remarkable courage.  Not many people would have done that.”  The other two basically said that he merely did what was expected of any captain. 

I disagree. If Captain Phillips’ behavior was merely the expected, then why don’t we see such behavior more often? 

My hunch is that neither Captain Sully nor Captain Phillips had to even think about what to do at “crunch time.”  Instead, they likely just responded on instinct to do the right thing.  That is true with all people of good character.  As Aristotle observed, we are what we repeatedly do.  Although I don’t know it for a fact, I also have a hunch that both captains were raised to do what was right, and then had it reinforced later in school, for example at the Air Force Academy, in the case of Captain Sully.

Good character is more than talk or a title.  It is doing what is right, especially when the stakes are high. Maxwell said, “Adversity forms a crossroads that makes a person choose one of two paths:  compromise or character.” These two captains were at a crossroad of adversity.   They were tested but did not compromise.  They chose character and did the right thing.

Wouldn’t be great if everyone, especially our current “Captains of Industry,” were cut from the same cloth as Captain Sully and Captain Richards and put others ahead of themselves?  How can we ensure that children growing up today will have this strength of character?

Joe Mazzola
Executive Director, CEP