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Sailing the Seven Seas of Management

Posted by Michael Urick on Wed, Jun 7, 2017 @ 14:06 PM

Ahoy!  I really enjoy the summer movie season because I love watching big-budget popcorn flicks.  I’m a fan of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise (Walt Disney Pictures, 2003, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2017; IMBD 2017), so I was really excited to see the new film, “Dead Men Tell No Tales,” that came out recently.

Throughout the entire series, the character of Captain Jack Sparrow is one lucky pirate!  Captain Jack bungles his way through all types of misadventures through his daily “work” routines including being chased by undead sailors, swallowed by a gigantic sea monster, and captured by Blackbeard (not all work environments are this interesting!).  Yet, through it all, he comes out on top and continues onward with his quests.

Anyone who’s ever dreamed of sailing the seas (or navigating their organization) knows that a captain needs a crew to be effective and that is what’s so fascinating about Captain Jack.  Despite being an often lousy pirate (as well as someone who has a history of dishonesty toward even his closest acquaintances), Captain Jack still has himself a loyal crew so that he can sail. 

Captain Jack Sparrow "Pirates of the Caribbean"

Somehow, the crew that he leads is often effective, both personally and individually.  Under his leadership, his crew helped to break curses, find the Fountain of Youth, and reunite a family torn apart by the villainous Davy Jones.  Like so many managers who are imperfect, Captain Jack is not a perfect person yet manages to get results.

 So, how did Captain Jack lead his crew to all of these accomplishments?  There are three things that help make Captain Jack effective despite his shortcomings and may also help some managers in organizations guide others to accomplish great things.

  • Know your followers. Captain Jack knew that the character of Henry Turner wanted to free his father from a curse, Carina Smyth wanted experiences in using the stars as a guide to find a mythical artifact, and that Gibbs wanted treasure.  By knowing each of their own unique wants and desires, he understood their deep motivations.  By leveraging motivators particular to each individual, he was able to influence them toward accomplishing goals that were aligned with each other.  Managers should seek to understand each of their employees as well and know that each person is not likely motivated by the same thing.  While pay is a starting point, it is likely that other motivators (as examples: a need for belonging, interesting work, or a flexible schedule) are stronger at times for employees and that what is the strongest motivator could differ from person to person.
  • Know your knowledge, skills, and abilities. In the classic article by French and Raven (1959), there are several things that can make individuals more influential in guiding others toward accomplishing common group goals.  Individuals can influence others because they can provide rewards or punishments, they have expertise needed for organizational functioning, they have a formal title of authority, or something about them makes them likable (e.g., such as their personality).  It is typically thought that the more of these characteristics that individuals can possess, the more influential they will be as managers (Urick, 2014).  Jack Sparrow can reward treasure to his crew if they are successful, has a formal title of “Captain,” has a lot of experience in pirating, and (despite all his faults) is still likable enough that he can motivate his crew as well as audiences to see his antics in five films for more than a decade!  In other words, Captain Jack has the potential to be highly influential.  As a manager, it is important to develop knowledge, skills, and abilities to become influential just as Captain Jack did.
  • Know your behavioral preferences. Managers vary on the level that they show interpersonal concern for their employees and for how much they care about productivity, formalization, and structure at work (Hersey & Blanchard, 1993).  The optimal combination of these behavioral tendencies that will make managers most effective depends on the organizational context.  Though each person has a tendency toward behaviors emphasizing interpersonal relationships or formalization, the best managers are able to shift their behavior by reading the context.  Captain Jack was effective throughout the film series as, in different contexts, he showed care toward others at times and emphasized goal accomplishment more at other times.  His behaviors, in essence, fit the context in which he found himself, just like an excellent manager.

Arrrgh…I’m interested in your thoughts.  Is your workplace like being in a crew of pirates?  What makes an effective captain/manager?  Let me know what you think.  Write me below, email me at michael.urick@stvincent.edu, or connect with me on social media (www.facebook.com/urickmj and www.linkedin.com/pub/michael-urick/a3/775/5b/).  Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me! 


Michael J. Urick, MBA, MS, PhD

French, J. R. J., & Raven, B.(1959). The bases of social power. Studies in social power, 150-167.

Hersey, P., & Blanchard, K. H. (1993). Management of organizational behavior: Utilizing human resources. Prentice-Hall, Inc.

IMDB.com.  (2017).  Pirates of the Caribbean series.  Accessed June 4, 2017.

Urick, M. J. (2014). Wizards, hobbits, and kings: Leadership in Tolkien’s Middle-earth and lessons for business leaders. Journal of Leadership and Management, 2(2).

Walt Disney Pictures.  (2003, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2017).  Pirates of the Caribbean.  Film franchise.

Topics: workplace culture, Pirates of the Caribbean, management

About the Authors

Michelle Gil-Montero is an associate professor of English and director of creative writing at Saint Vincent College. She runs the visiting writers series on campus, oversees the student literary magazine, and serves as guru to aspiring poets on campus. She received her MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2007, and she has been on the Saint Vincent faculty since that year. She is an active poet and literary translator from Spanish. She is spending part of the 2016-17 school year travelling to Argentina on a Howard Foundation fellowship and Fulbright grant. 

Dr. John J. Smetanka has been a member of the full-time faculty since 1997 and currently serves as the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean of Saint Vincent College, a position he has held since January 2008. Dr. Smetanka has taught courses in Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry and Geology as well as interdisciplinary seminars. He has published scientific research articles in physics and astrophysics journals, numerous conference proceedings and also works in science education reform and the interaction between science, technology and theology.

Jim Kellam is an associate professor of biology at Saint Vincent College and our resident ornithologist. He received his Ph.D. from Purdue University in 2003, and is taking this semester as a sabbatical. What does that mean? He'll explain in his blog posts.

Dr. Michael J. Urick is Graduate Director of the Master of Science in Management: Operational Excellence program, and Associate Professor of Management and Operational Excellence at the Alex G. McKenna School of Business, Economics, and Government. Dr. Urick teaches courses related to organizational behavior, human resources, culture, leadership, diversity, conflict, supply chain, operations and research methods. Professionally, Urick serves on the board of the Institute for Supply Management (Pittsburgh) and belongs to the Society for Human Resource Management and APICS. For fun, Urick enjoys music and, since 1998, has led and performed with Neon Swing X-perience, a jazz band that has released multiple albums and toured portions of the US. He enjoys watching movies, is an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction, and also likes to fence.

David Safin, C'00, has been a lecturer in the communication department since the Fall of 2003, and has served in a variety of administrative roles since the summer of 2004. Currently, he teaches multimedia in the communication department as an assistant professor. 

Dr. Michael Krom received his Doctorate in philosophy at Emory University in 2007 and is currently the chair of the philosophy department at Saint Vincent. He has authored a book on religion and politics and continues to publish works in Catholic moral and political thought. Dr. Krom also directs the Faith and Reason summer program every summer. 

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