Because one day you may be called on to lead. Will you have what it takes?
What makes a great captain?
Some of the answers are easy.
An ability to lead men and women, be it in war, sports, or the executive boardroom. Honesty. Patience. An attention to detail. Nerves of steel.
In basketball, it may be something so simple as “unselfish ball handling.” In tennis, a “relentless compulsion to win” no matter what it takes physically and mentally. One leading group of sports psychologists boils it down to 3 C’s: caring, courage and consistency.
Among pilots, one expert cites skill, trust, and communication. Think of any flight you’ve been on: who do you want in the captain’s chair when you hit turbulence, or face terrorism?
Finally, there’s Star Fleet. What do you want in a captain entrusted to “explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” You laugh, but this 50-year-old show has inspired geeks and athletes of all types to join NASA and become astronauts.
So think about it. And while you do, we offer up our humble list of the 10 greatest captains in history, sports, reality and fantasy.
- Horatio Lord Nelson
A legendary British naval commander, Nelson was famous for his victories against the French during the Napoleonic Wars. As a commander, he was known for bold action and occasionally disregarding orders. He joined the navy at age 12, on a ship commanded by a maternal uncle. He achieved the rank of captain at the age of 20, and saw service in the West Indies, Baltic and Canada. When Britain entered the French Revolutionary Wars in 1793, Nelson was given command of the Agamemnon. He lost his right arm at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 1797, but his greatest victories were still ahead of him. At the Battle of the Nile in 1798, he successfully destroyed Napoleon’s fleet and sealed off the dictator’s bid for a direct trade route to India. His most famous engagement, at Cape Trafalgar, saved Britain from threat of invasion by Napoleon. It would be his last. On Oct. 21, 1805, Nelson famously told his fleet that “England expects that every man will do his duty.” A few hours later, he was killed by a French sniper as he led the attack on the combined French and Spanish fleet.
- James Cook
Born in a small village in Yorkshire, James Cook learned the rule of the seas first in small sailing ships. He went on to serve in the Royal Navy. In 1768, he won the appointment of commander of the Endeavour. He then set out on a mission in the Pacific to allow astronomers to record the transit of the planet Venus as it passed in front of the Sun, a rare event that was used to measure the distance of the Sun from the Earth. After he and his crew witnessed this in Tahiti, they went on to chart New Zealand and sailed the east coast of Australia, mapping out terrain that was then largely unknown at the time. Cook’s three voyages of discovery helped fill in many of the blank spots on Europeans’ world maps. But things didn’t go so well in Hawaii during his third voyage to Pacific as captain of the Resolution. He and his crew mistreated the Hawaiians, who then rebelled. Cook was murdered after the kidnapping of a Hawaiian King and the death of one of their chiefs.
The captain whose fierceness and brutality would make him synonymous with pirates and piracy everywhere, Edward “Blackbeard” Teach emerged in the early Eighteenth Century from unknown origins. He began his pirating ways as a crew member aboard a Jamaican sloop commanded by the pirate Benjamin Hornigold. By 1717, Hornigold and Teach were sailing in alliance. Later that same year, they captured a 26-gun French vessel called the Concorde. They added 14 more guns and she was re-named the Queen Anne’s Revenge. A year later, Blackbeard was already in command of four pirate ships with a combined crew of over 300 ne’er-do-wells. Blackbeard died – and his legend was born – after a fleet of Royal Navy ships in 1718 surprised him and his crew at Ocracoke Inlet, in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Legend has it that Blackbeard fought to the end with five musket-ball wounds and 20 sword lacerations. To make sure they got their point across, the Royal Navy decapitated Teach and hung his head on the ships rigging.
- William Kidd
Another of the great “name” pirates, Captain William Kidd started out as the man you hired to get rid of pirates. He was a privateer – a civilian specifically hired through a commission of war – who was asked by the British Crown to captain a powerful ship and capture all French ships and the pirates of Madagascar. But then his crew insisted on attacking the Quadegh Merchant, a large Armenian ship laden with treasures on the Indian Ocean. Kidd went along – is this leadership? Considering the alternative for a captain facing a mutiny, it was probably a good idea at the time – and found himself on the wrong side of the British government. He then went all in and began plundering ships of all kinds along India’s Malabar coast. Kidd amassed a staggering amount of wealth that belonged to the all-powerful British East India Company. (Viewers of the FX drama “Taboo” will realize just how powerful). They tracked him down to New York City, where he was put in chains. He was then shipped back to England. On May 23, 1701, he was executed. His body was then dipped in tar and hung by chains along the Thames River, serving as a warning to all would-be pirates for years to come.
- LeBron James.
— Marvel Entertainment (@Marvel) March 4, 2014
What is there to say? Arguably the most famous basketball player of his generation, ESPN describes James thusly: Captain, MVP, franchise savior, revenue generator, front-office consigliere and coach on the floor. University instructors and leadership gurus routinely cite him in their books and sermons. “The very best leaders want to create win-win outcomes with their peers, and recognize how important peer relationships are to successful leadership. Like Larry Bird or LeBron James on a basketball court, they make everyone else on the team look good,” says the dean of Tuft’s Fletcher School on the art of leadership. When he was still with the Miami Heat, Marvel Comics went so far as to liken him to Captain America.
- Long John Silver
A character in one of the most famous novels in English literature – Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” – Long John Silver created the image of the stereotypical pirate most have in mind. You know, the whole peg leg and parrot thing. Here’s how he’s described in the book: “his left leg was cut off close by the hip, and under the left shoulder he carried a crutch…hopping about upon it like a bird. He was very tall and strong, with a face as big as a ham.” A cook hired for the ship Hispaniola, Silver becomes a dastardly pirate hunting for legendary treasure of Captain Flint. He doesn’t meet the end of our other pirates though. At the end of the novel, Silver hobbles off with some of the booty and is never seen again. He also gives one of the best explanations of what being a pirate is all about: “Being a pirate is all well and good… but once I lost me leg it was never the same. I needed the treasure for me and the wife to get our retirement home in Eastbourne.” Seriously, it’s all about the nest egg.
- Diego Maradona
One of the greatest soccer players of all time, he’s often described as an emotional wreck and a cocaine addict. Where’s the leadership you say? As a member of the Argentinean national team that won the 1986 World Cup, Maradona’s performance included two memorable goals in a quarter-final victory over England. The first was scored illegally with his left hand, which Maradona later claimed was the work of “the hand of God.” The second displayed an amazing ability to dribble past an onslaught of defenders to find the back of the net. Most experts today consider the rest of the team average. But Maradona’s sheer zeal and drive inspired them to greatness too.
- Tom Brady
One of the greatest football players in history, Tom Brady of the New England Patriots also has one of the longest streaks as a superstar team captain in the NFL. Why is that a sign of leadership? Brady has often spoken about how the captaincy is an honor because it is voted on by teammates. The five-time Super Bowl champion wasn’t named a captain at the beginning of the 2016 season for the first time in 14 years, likely a result of the fact that he was suspended for the first four games of the season due to Deflategate. But by the 11th game, his teammates once again elevated him, keeping that streak alive too. Brady is one of only two players to win five Super Bowls (the other being Charles Haley), the only quarterback to win five and the only player to win them all playing for one team.
- Chelsey B. “Sully” Sullenberger, III
In 2009, Captain Sullenberger, piloting a routine US Airways flight, pulled off one of the most miraculous, life-saving, catastrophe-averting maneuvers of modern times. He landed US Airways Flight 1549 in New York City’s frigid Hudson River. The plane’s two engines had lost thrust following a sudden bird strike. Sullenberger – who always emphasizes the key role played by his crew – received international acclaim for his. actions that day, including the passage of a Congressional resolution recognizing their bravery. Sullenberger was ranked second in Time Magazine’s “Top 100 Most Influential Heroes and Icons of 2009” and was awarded the French Legion of Honour. He was also played by Tom Hanks in the movie, “Sully,” that came out last year.
- James T. Kirk
This is the captain who is probably the best known captain of all time. The character of James Tiberius Kirk has been played by both William Shatner and Chris Pine, but it was Shatner’s iconic performance during the 1960s that has inspired a generation of scientists, astronauts and all-around geeks to embraces the sciences as children and aim for the stars. Shatner explains Kirk’s appeal best: “The hero of classic storytelling carries with them the look of eagles,” Shatner explained recently. “He’s brave. He’s courageous. He’s got command presence. He’s attractive to both men and women. He’s a man of action. These themes are classic in their scope and great heroes of Shakespeare and Greek dramas from whence all our storytelling emerges are in that classic mode. And I thought Capt. Kirk was in that classic mode.”