What is it all about?

This post will be the first chapter in a set of articles where we will use examples of different series to find out if leaders are born or made.

The last ship’s story revolves around the crew of a naval destroyer that is forced to confront the reality of a new existence when a pandemic kills off most of the earth’s population. Though there are no zombies or other strange beings, the show focuses as many others on survival. The main difference with other tv series is that this one has a US vessel with a full crew and no futuristic tech. I guess we could say it’s a tad more realistic than its peers.

What do we see in this scene?

This scene takes place in the second season just after that Jeffrey Michener, the newly sworn President of the United States meets the crew of the USS Nathan James. As former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Michener was manipulated into being appointed as the President by the Ramsey brothers who planned to use him to control the USA.

Being completely unprepared and overwhelmed by the role he was given, Michener has now a very hard time taking decisions and displaying any form of leadership. He wasn’t even able to figure out what he wanted for lunch.

Command Master Chief Petty Officer Russell Jeter decided to give him some advice…

What do we learn from this scene

There are 3 different aspects studied in this short conversation:

  • Taking decisions: from a military standpoint the role of a leader is to take decisions
  • Leadership can and should be studied
  • Leadership is acquired through experience

CMC Jeter explains to Michener that whereas he doesn’t have the same leadership background as the military do, he can learn and they do trust his capabilities and his capacity as President.

Leadership, born or made?

There are many studies on this topic and perceptions widely differ. Some believe that to be a leader, one requires a set of personality traits, the right competences and the ideal context to bloom. Others believe it’s innate and will pop out anyway; context doesn’t really matter. And lastly there are those who believe that through experience anyone can become a leader.

As Connson Chou Locke explains in his post, maybe this is not the right question to ask. In his article, the author explains we have to differentiate between leadership effectiveness (performance as a leader) and leadership emergence (being tapped for a leadership role). In addition, one can be tapped for the role by taking the lead or being appointed. Therefore, initiative could be key in defining leadership.

What I like about this scene is that it very well identify the way leadership is embraced by the army. One can gain a leadership position or become a leader through study, experience and trust. A soldier starts at the bottom and gains in status and leadership throughout his career. But the most important is that it doesn’t really focus on specific competences, skills and personality traits. Of course, it is only in actual battle where people die, that a soldier will be able to display his real aptitude to command and lead his troops. (which brings us back to context)

Most studies and leadership experts estimate that leadership is indeed a combination of about one-third inborn aptitude and two-third made. And yet, this doesn’t really define or take into consideration what it actually means to lead and what makes the difference between a good leader and a bad one. Can we even state that a bad leader is a leader? When googling good vs bad leader, I mostly find articles about good vs bad boss. Does it mean that boss equals leader? Is the person in charge defacto a leader?

Moreover, if we take the army as context, there are different layers of leadership and decision-making. Whereas a general commands the army, decides strategically and gives orders in a rather impersonal way, low rank officers have to take more often tactical decisions and directly order their troops while seeing people getting killed. Higher we go in the command chain and more it becomes abstract. How can we compare and say who is a good or bad leader? Again, context seems to be playing a role in the type of leadership.

First and foremost it depends very much of how we define leader and leadership. I also believe that there is much more to it than skills, personality, learning and experience or even fate. So what is exactly missing? That is what we’re going to try and find out using other videos and the next releases.