The face of leadership

“Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.” - Brene’ Brown

Robert Louis Stevenson tells of a storm that caught a vessel off a rocky coast and threatened to drive it and its passengers to destruction. In the midst of the terror, one daring man, contrary to orders, went to the deck, made a dangerous passage to the pilot house and saw the steerman at his post holding the wheel unwaveringly, and inch by inch, turning the ship out, once more, to sea. The pilot saw the watcher and smiled. Then, the daring passenger went below and gave out a note of cheer: “I have seen the face of the pilot, and he smiled. All is well.”

This story is a great reminder of the power of leadership. Whether you serve in a large corporation, a small business, a nonprofit, or somewhere in-between, people look to leadership not just for direction, but for a steady hand in the midst of the storm.

Think about the man in the story. He defied orders and he risked his life. But what he came away with made it all worthwhile. He was able to go back and with a cheer in his voice let the others know that they were going to be fine. Why? Because he saw the smiling face of the pilot.

There are a few leadership lessons for you from this story. Don’t underestimate them.


Normally, we try to steer clear of perceptions because it’s just too easy to mislead people. But as a leader, you must know that people (for better or worse) do look at you differently. The air of confidence and composure you give matters to people and you should be mindful of it.

“Leadership is a matter of having people look at you and gain confidence, seeing how you react,” said Tom Landry. “If you’re in control, they’re in control.”


Trust is essential to your leadership. It will make it or break it. People will stick by your side and weather the storms with you so long as they know they can trust you. All it took for the man in the story to have hope was to see the expression on the face of the pilot to know that things were going to be fine. But in today’s culture, it’s going to take more than just the expression on your face to carry the day. You must earn trust.

Seth Godin was spot on when he said, “Earn trust, earn trust, earn trust. Then you can worry about the rest.”


When the daring passenger saw the smile on the face of the pilot, he went to the others with a cheerful heart to report the good news. In that brief exchange, courage was transferred from the steady hand of the pilot to the frightful passengers below.

I think in our leadership circles at times we tend to overlook some of the basic fundamentals that translate to success. You don’t have to attend the latest conference or hire the most expensive leadership guru to tell you this. So I will. Courage is contagious. And when you display courageous leadership then your people will respond to it.

What is the face of your leadership?

©2019 Doug Dickerson


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