13 Leadership Lessons And Quotes From The Finest Hours

A Reel Leadership Article

February 1952 saw what is considered the greatest small-boat rescue in history. A disastrous winter storm hit the East Coast, damaging an oil tanker and ripping it in half.

The United States Coast Guard is sent in for a small-boat rescue.

What comes next is unbelievable but true. The grit and determination of these Coast Guard men can teach all of us a lesson or two.

Why I Want To See The Finest Hours

From the first preview, I was hooked. I knew The Finest Hours was a movie to see.


First, I live close to the only city officially designated as Coast Guard City. This was done by an act of congress and signed into law by President Clinton.

Second, I love epic movies about real life events. Knowing what happened in The Finest Hours was based on true events made me want to watch it even more.

Third, you could tell from the previews that The Finest Hours would present amazing leadership lessons. Those thoughts were right.

Leadership Lessons And Quotes From The Finest Hours

1.  Bernie Webber:

Do you think I should have worn the other shirt?

This was a laugh out loud line but it also was a pivotal leadership lesson. Bernie was worried he’d made the wrong choice before his blind date with his future bride Miriam Penttinen.

In the end, it didn’t matter what shirt he wore. He was in.

Isn’t this a familiar feeling for leaders? We are worried about a simple choice that, in the grand scheme of things, matters very little.

Instead of focusing on the non-important aspects of your life, begin to focus on the important things.

2. Help those you lead experience new adventures: One of the great things about leading is that we get to show people a way to go or do things that they never knew before.

We have the ability, like Bernie did by getting Miriam on a boat for the first time, to give people the experiences of a lifetime. Help them experience new success, new joys, and new adventures.

3. Bernie Webber: 

We all get scared out there

Can I say that I absolutely love this line? It should sum up the truth of all of over lives.

While most of us won’t be putting our lives on the line like Bernie Webber, we do face moments of fear.

Will I make the right choice? Am I leading well? How will I tell the team we failed?

All of these are things that should scare leaders. We are impacting the lives of others. Be scared of that!

4. Bernie Webber:

Sometimes you go out and you never come back.

The job of the Coast Guard is a terrifying one. Yet there are men and women who step up for the job.

They know that their next assignment may be their last.

Once again, the majority of leaders never face the reality that their life could be lost doing what they do. But their job could be.

The next assignment you take may be your last. Are you prepared?

5. Listen to those you lead:  Before the oil tanker split in half, Ray Sybert, played by Casey Affleck, warned the captain of the tanker they needed to slow down. The captain didn’t heed his advice.

We all know what happened then. The ship split, the captain died, and the Coast Guard had to rescue the crew who survived.

All of this could have been prevented had the leader of the ship listened to his men.

Do you heed the words your team tells you? If not, I’m telling you that you need to.

They have years of wisdom you do not. They have experience you do not. They know when things are going on.

6. Small cracks can lead to serious issues: One of the reasons the oil tanker split in The Finest Hours is because there was a previous crack. This crack had been repaired but it was still there.

As the ship was buffeted by the waves, the crack began to weaken again. Eventually, it split the ship in 2.

Be mindful of the small cracks you let slip into your life. This could be small moral lapses that “hurt” no one. They could be small lies that you tell people to cover your behind.

Whatever they are, these small cracks can burst wide open and reek havoc. Mind the cracks.

7. Frank Fauteux:

They may not like you but they’ll know to listen to ya.

Frank told this to Ray as he was trying to get someone to talk sense into the men that were left on the S. S. Pendleton. Ray felt he wasn’t liked enough to be effective. Frank told him otherwise.

A lot of times we can be concerned about how well we’re liked. While it’s a good thing to be concerned about, it’s not important in the end.

Having the expertise and knowledge of how to get the job done is what matters.

8. The message has to get to the people: In one crazy scene, we see the crew of the S. S. Pendleton scramble to get a message down to Ray.

He needed to know which way to steer the ship and how fast to go.

The message passed through many hands. Eventually ending up with Ray.

Your message will pass through the hands of many, many people over the years. Is the message you’re spreading worth sharing?

9. Sometimes you don’t have to do anything: I believe these are the scariest times in leadership. Those times you have to sit back and let nature do its thing.

We saw this in The Finest Hours when they stopped trying to steer the tanker and let the sea push them in the right direction.

Are there things in your organization that you’re fighting? Maybe it’s time to sit back and let things take their course.

10. Brace yourself: The waves rocked both of the ships in this movie. People were tossed to and fro.

They also had to brace themselves for these waves.

We’ll be rocked by the storms of our lives. We’ll feel tossed back and forth.

Be prepared to brace yourself for these coming trials.

11. Rules can be broken: After arriving at the S. S. Pendleton, the crew of the Coast Guard boat realized there were more men than the official capacity of the boat they were in. This could cause trouble getting them back to shore.

Yet they decided to risk it. They had to break regulations to save these men.

Rules are important. They should be followed. Most of the time.

12. There’s a time to stop listening to others: As Bernie was returning to his station, his commanding officer ordered him to go to another ship in the area. He knew he couldn’t. He didn’t have the means.

So, he shut off the radio and powered towards the city. He went at it without the advice of those on land.

I’m a big proponent of listening to others. It was a lesson I shared earlier in this post.

However, there are times when the advice of others don’t mesh with what you’re going through. That’s the time to go at it alone.

13. You can succeed without experienced personal: One of the things I loved about The Finest Hours is the fact that Bernie’s crew were made up of inexperienced Coast Guard personal. His crew consisted of Engineman Third Class Andrew Fitzgerald; Seaman Richard Livesey; and Seaman Ervin Maske.

None of these guys had the experience to be out in a storm like this. Still, they knew what had to be done and did it.

We’ve been taught for so long that we need to build a strong team of people who have experience. We see that you can buck this in The Finest Hours.

Instead of putting together the best and the brightest, you might have to put together a team of the willing and able. The people who are passionate about the purpose of your organization.

You get these guys together and anything is possible.

Question: Have you seen The Finest Hours? If you have, what leadership lessons did you see in the movie? If not, what leadership lesson from The Finest Hours that I shared hit home with you? Let’s talk about this in the comment section.

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