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Confessions Of An Authentic Leader | Rare Communication Habits (and Why We Must Adopt Them)

One does not usually receive lessons in leadership while on vacation, but it happened. I found myself giving him a standing ovation in my head as he let his authentic leadership shine.

How was he an authentic leader? He told us he didn’t know.

He actually told us that more than once.

I recently experienced a cruise through the Panama Canal on Princess Cruise Lines. It was a thoroughly enjoyable time for all the usual reasons: family togetherness, new friends, exciting experiences in never-before-visited places, thoughtful service, and not having to make meals or clean the room (insert big grin here 😁 ).

After we traversed the original 1914 canal locks - impressive experience, oppressive humidity aside - we made a stop in Huatulco, Mexico.

We were due to leave port at 4:30 pm. Our youngest boy was in desperate need of a nap, so I stayed on the boat with him while my husband, older son, and in-laws disembarked to enjoy the sites.

About 3:30 pm the power went out in our room and the emergency lighting illuminated. Luckily, one doesn’t need power while napping, so it didn’t bother us.

Within a minute Captain Paul Slight from Wales came on the intercom.

“Hello ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking from the bridge. I’m sure you noticed our power is out,” he paused with an obvious smile in his voice.

“Our very capable team has been mobilized and is checking it out,” he continued.

“At the moment everything has lost power, including the engines. We ask for your safety that you use the stairs, as the elevators will not work. We don’t know what is going on, but I’ll come back in no later than 15 minutes to let you know what we find.”

His ability to insert humor into what I’m sure was a stressful situation made him personable and human. His brief statement also shared two main things: he was transparent in his humanity of not knowing everything and his team was capable.

Not only did I immediately trust him as my captain, I also felt included in the situation that affected me and my family.

We were on board the Island Princess, whose maiden voyage was in 2003. That placed our 20-year-old vessel into the “getting up there” category by sea standards. It is kept in the fleet because of its smaller size and its ability to fit into the original locks of the Panama Canal.

What the ship benefits from in size, it doesn’t benefit from in technology. As our boat nears the average age of cruise ship retirement (25-30 years), those who understand its intricate systems are lessening, which made getting things restarted a bit difficult.

True to his word, Captain Slight was back on the intercom at 15 minutes on the dot.

“Hello ladies and gentlemen, it’s your captain speaking from the bridge again. Well, I don’t have an update on when we will be getting our power back. This means our departure may be delayed. What I can tell you is that our technicians are reaching out to experts from around the world to figure out how to get us going.”

His voice continued in a stately and kind English accent.

“I will let you know what I know in 15 minutes or less. In the mean time, I know it is getting warm in some enclosed areas without the air conditioning, so it is recommended to move to main areas and stay cool.”

Be still my heart. A leader who is transparent AND concerned for those to whom he is speaking.

I don’t know about you, but I find that rare.

We convince ourselves that leaders must always be one step ahead and know what’s happening while presenting a stoic and strong exterior. Not only is that an impossible task (because leaders are human, too), but it is also a set up for falling. Sometimes very hard.

Another 15 minutes of emergency lighting.

“Hello ladies and gentlemen, it’s your captain again. I’m afraid I don’t have new news. We are still working furiously to connect power to our engines.”

The impatience was present, but it did not overpower the optimism in his tone.

“Our technicians continue to work hard and I will be back in 15 minutes or less with an update.”

Every 15 minutes on the dot Captain Slight gave us an update, whether there was new news or not. The general emotion among the passengers was one of patience, because we knew we would know something when there was something to know.

Eventually the power came back on to a joyous round of applause. Promptly after, Captain Slight’s calm and pleasant voice came on the intercom to give us next steps of when we would leave, when the elevators would begin working, and what to expect now that our departure had been delayed.

My heart almost burst with warmth to witness Captain Slight’s leadership in action.

In speaking to him afterward, he shared quality communication isn’t only for crises, but also for the every day. He smiled gently, “A crisis doesn’t change the need for quality communication, just the timing of it.”

Amen, Captain Slight. Amen.

Authentic leaders create habits of communication that are surprisingly rare.

Captain Slight shows us that quality communication consists of five things:

  • What is known (power is out)

  • What isn’t known (how long it will take to restore power)

  • What the plans are (contact specialists)

  • How it affects us (may delay departure)

  • Compassion (concern for safety and overheating)

I learned a lot from Captain Paul Slight’s communication habits. Aside from the jolly English accent, it is something we all can put into practice today.

Be WITH in your communication, crisis or not.


Malcolm Seheult
Malcolm Seheult
Jun 09, 2023

Humor and laughter- it is the one universal commonality that we all share- regardless of where we are and who we are with! The best leaders are constantly audience and finding whys for sincere communication. The Captain's job was to provide information, in a proper manner and make it as palatable as possible for the circumstances. Leaders can learn from this simple example. It is never too late to improve your game.


Replying to

So well put. We can always learn new skills, or deepen existing ones. You have the humor part down 🙂

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