Learning Leadership and Decision-Making from the Captain of the Enterprise

I became a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation after I met Lyndsay. Throughout my life I had caught episodes here and there and generally liked the show. At the time I met Lyndsay I was far from being a Trekkie but since that time we both have grown in our love for Jean-Luc Picard and company. His solemn, strong-silent-type demeanor is somewhat endearing and you can not doubt his wisdom and his ability to guide his crew and his ship through what seem like impossible odds. Yes, I know it’s just a TV show.

Earlier this year when we found that CBS began offering seasons of classic shows for viewing on its website we were thrilled. Furthermore we found that Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) was available. We have never really watched much of TOS but we, like everyone, has always thought that Mr. Spock is so cool. Yes, his ways of pure emotionless logic get in the way of his ability to actually understand others (particularly humans), but his critical thinking skills are invaluable to the original Enterprise crew and its “five year mission”. I understand. It’s just a show. So we began watching the series beginning with season one, episode one.

Now from the start you can see the immediate differences between Captain James T. Kirk and Picard. First of all, Kirk has more hair. That goes without saying. But Kirk also has a very maverick way about him. He swaggers, he smiles a lot, he shows his emotions and frustration easily, and he does not mind ignoring orders from Starfleet when he believes doing so would be in the best interest of his ship and his crew. Picard, on the other hand, hides his emotions in a lot of ways, he rarely fraternizes with the crew on a personal level, he takes the orders he receives very seriously and he almost never violates the prime directive. Kirk is often more than happy to do so. He is more of a cowboy. Some people even call him a space cowboy. Gangster of love? Not so much.

I have caught on however to a very interesting aspect of Kirk’s leadership that I do not see in Picard as much. Maybe it is just not highlighted as often. Here it is: Kirk is very smart but he doesn’t know or pretend to know that much. Nor does he believe it is his job to know and understand everything. That is why he has some of the best in the Starfleet aboard his ship. In more than one episode, Spock is called “the best first officer in the fleet.” And who can not help but say the same about Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy and Montgomery “Scotty” Scott in the areas of medicine and engineering, respectively. You see, there are many times in which a problem is presented and Kirk does not know the solution nor does he ever try to figure it out. His first instinct is always to ask for input from McCoy, Spock, or Scotty, or all three. Often times Kirk never comes to the conclusion himself. He simply reserves the right to give the order that the solution be implemented.

Recently a coworker came to me with an issue. We do not work in the same department but in order to accomplish a particular task he needed some input from me. So he presented me with the issue and we talked it over for a minute. Then he began relating to me his thoughts about the item we were talking about since he has previous work experience with the item in question. As I was listening it dawned on me that this was like Mr. Spock giving all the information he knew about a subject to Captain Kirk. Kirk, in such a situation, would then often state something to the effect of “Conclusions” or “Speculate”. This would give Spock (or Scotty or Bones) the opportunity to pitch a potential plan. Usually the solution that is tried does not originate with Kirk, but with a member of his crew or together with them.

So at this point in my conversation with my coworker I asked “So based on your prior knowledge of this item, what do you think should be done with it?” He stated his thoughts about it, we talked it over some more and then we made a decision. And you guessed it! The decision we went with was the one he proposed. Now some of you may be thinking “so what’s the big deal about that, Josh? You simply didn’t know what to do so you did what he said!” Very true. And why not? He was clearly the expert though he may not have seen himself as such. He needed some information from me in order to come to his conclusion but it was his background and knowledge that really brought the solution to us. Now I am not his boss, but I can see how having an ability like Kirk’s could make a person a very effective manager. Too many managers try to take on the entire load themselves and make all of the major decisions. A manager is not a know-it-all, a great cosmic sage, or the possessor of all knowledge. A manager is a person who can put the right parts in the right places and then use them effectively to accomplish a desired end.

My degree is in Business and Information Technology with a concentration in Management. My goal is to be a manager or supervisor of some kind in the future, either in my own business venture or with a company like my employer, BAE Systems. Also I notice and appreciate good leaders with good leadership abilities whenever I see them and I try to learn from them because of my aspirations. So I am glad I was able to learn a valuable lesson from everyone’s favorite Starship captain, Priceline Negotiator, er, I mean James T. Kirk.

And I know it’s just a show.

Josh H.


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