The Triton


Taking the Helm: Practice the attributes of leaders who turn heads


Taking the Helm: by Paul Ferdais

We all love the type of leader who can walk into a room and have all heads turn to see what he or she does next. All of history’s great leaders, such as John F. Kennedy and Winston Churchill, had that kind of star power and authority. Both were polished masters at drawing attention to themselves and channeling that attention to their cause.

In order to become this type of leader, we must first deliver on the promise of doing what we say we’ll do. John Baldoni, a leading author on leadership, calls this promise “leadership presence,” and he defines it as presence and earned authority.  

Presence and leadership authority are created by setting an example others will aspire to and follow. We earn this authority to bring people together for a common purpose by what we do and how we do it. 

There are four attributes we can all demonstrate that will help develop leadership presence and authority in the eyes of our teammates and coworkers:


Seek to maintain control of the situation. Master the management and administration of all aspects of your role, but keep in mind you can’t control people. No matter how much you might want to physically reach out and make a deckhand go about a wash down or other task as you yourself would do it, they’re their own people. 

The insight here is that you can’t control people and events, but you can control how you respond to them. Control yourself and the situation – that’s what’s meant by control. 


One measure of a good leader is how he or she performs under pressure. Leaders who are composed are those who keep their wits about them, speak calmly and coherently, and are able to provide direction for others when things aren’t going the way they want or expect. 

No one will follow a leader who’s lost it. We all want to get behind someone who handles pressure well. A chief engineer who maintains his or her composure during an emergency is someone others will automatically follow in those moments of chaos. This ties back to the  self-control mentioned above. 


You cannot lead another person if you don’t believe in yourself. Leaders must project a sense of confidence in themselves. When leaders act as though  they know what they’re doing, it inspires confidence in others to follow them. 

This is especially true when things aren’t going well. When leaders act with control, remain composed and exude confidence, they demonstrate credibility.


Credibility is a culmination of behaviors, and is how leaders earn the trust and confidence of their people. It’s common to feel you’ve made it when you are  in the top job and people will simply do your bidding. Alas, it doesn’t work that way. 

Neither title nor position create  leadership. Just because you’re the head of a department doesn’t mean people will jump into line and do as you command. To be taken seriously, you must strive to be credible in the eyes of your teammates, which flows from the above-mentioned attributes. 

Taking a course or class won’t all of a sudden develop control, composure or confidence. We need to put in the hard work to realistically look at our behavior, to see where we have to change and improve. It’s not those around us who have to adapt to us. 

Put in the effort if you want your team members to see you as a genuine leader – a leader whom others want to emulate and follow. The type of leader who will turn heads whenever you enter a room. 

A former first officer, Paul Ferdais is owner of The Marine Leadership Group (, and a commanding officer in the Canadian coast guard. Comments are welcome below.

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