6 Leadership Lessons From Star Trek Captains
There’s no doubting the social and cultural impact of Star Trek across the whole world. For five decades now, viewers have watched brave women and men “explore strange new worlds” and put their lives on the line to seeks answers and gain knowledge. This past weekend, fans saw a refreshed new crew in Star Trek: Discovery which promises to live up to the same ideologies that its creator Gene Roddenberry held high.
One of the main attractions of Star Trek has been its glamorous and cutting edge special effects, futuristic gadgetry and vast alien conflicts. But beyond all the flashiness, what holds it all together are the values that it enlightens us with. You see, Star Trek is more than just entertainment. It’s more than simple science fiction, heroism and intergalactic battles. Star Trek is about management! Here’s why.
Star Trek has been an iconic example of diversity. Back in 1966 when it all began, a US TV show with a crew of multicultural people was a huge statement! Star Trek: Discovery started off with two women leading the way as captain and first officer – another powerful statement. And that very easily is the core value of the show – unification of all genders, races, ages and beliefs. All of them contributing towards a common goal and objective. Sure, The Enterprise always had on board the most skilled talent, but they were from diverse backgrounds and seldom agreed with each other’s solutions. Diversity was their strength as it should be for any organization and team.
Star Trek is all about leadership. Each captain (and there have been six so far) have the heavy responsibility of seeking answers, innovating, keeping their ship intact, keeping their crew safe, negotiating, reasoning, resolving conflicts, being diplomatic and providing solutions (there are many more about I’ll stop here – you get the idea). It’s the classic example and definition of modern day challenges that a leader anywhere in the world faces. So how do they do this? They seek council from their closest advisors (Spock and Dr. McCoy for Kirk and Troi, Riker and Dr. Crusher for Picard). They may choose to adhere to the advice or come up with their own solutions, but as every good leader should, they value input from their team. In an episode, Captain Kirk said “one of the advantages of being Captain is being able to ask for advice without necessarily having to take it.” They also put their necks on the line first, just to save their team from harm. They’re courageous, bold and risk takers, as every leader should be. They empathize, encourage and mentor their crew. Basically, if you watch any of the six captains you’ll get a general idea of “good” leadership traits.
3. Conflict Resolution
While the core mission of Star Trek starships is exploration and to “boldly go where no one’s gone before” the crew have a knack for landing into dicey situations. Whether its turmoil between two alien lifeforms or among its own crew, Star Trek viewers get to watch many, many conflicts. These conflicts create opportunities for the crew to make an impact and create a better and harmonious future. That’s precisely how we all should view conflicts. Sure there’ll be disagreements, arguments and heated debates, but at the end of it all we should realize that the resolution will be beneficial for all. And it’s impact will resonate for many years to come in the form of peace.
Taking risks and being a leader go hand in hand. To achieve greatness we need to have the appetite for risk taking. To this, Captain Kirk once said “Risk is our business. That’s what this starship is all about. That’s why we’re aboard her.” Why else do you do what you do every day if it’s not to challenge the status quo and to take risks so that you can innovate. Thanks to technology leaders have access to infinite data and information that can help them anticipate and predict outcomes. Unfortunately, most leaders use this insight to play it safe and mitigate risks. On the contrary, leadership is all about taking risks with the aim of making the future a reality for everyone.
While sometimes we forget the importance of values, leadership will always hold it at its core. It’s the only thing (yes even beyond success itself) that differentiates a greater leader from a good one. Captain Janeway survived ten years out in the depths of Delta Quadrant, trying to lead her crew back to Earth with one main strength – they relied on Starfleet’s core values through every challenge they faced. She once said “never abandon a member of your crew.” And that’s what she delivered. Captain Pickard, similarly, was a great advocate and seeker of truth. He’s been heard telling a fellow crew member “The first duty of every Starfleet Officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, or historical truth or personal truth. It is the guiding principle of what Starfleet is based on.” A leader with values can inspire and motivate people to achieve greatness.
6. Being Human
Being human can be a lot of things to different people. But one thing it is for everyone, and that’s being vulnerable. Sure we put on our bravest masks when we’re faced with challenges and the unknown. But in reality we’re all vulnerable to make mistakes, to failures and to being outsmarted. Captain Kirk accepted this fact of being a human all too well. When’s he caught in a chase with an enemy ship he turns to his trusted friend and colleague, Dr. Leonard McCoy and says “Why me? I look around that bridge, and I see the men waiting for me to make the next move. And Bones, what if I’m wrong?” It’s perfectly alright to second guess yourself because then you’ll open your mind to other ideas and approaches to solutions.
Star Trek has offered us many learnings and constantly redefines what’s normal and acceptable. It has enabled us to dream bigger and believe in our ability to shape the future. Star Trek is definitely more than just a TV show – it’s a leader that has envisioned a brighter future. If you’re a fan you know what I’m talking about. If you’re not a sci-fi or Star Trek fan, then watch the shows as a management crash course!
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