Leadership from Space

I read a blog post a few years ago, and more recently was reminded about it again. I wanted to share it with you as I’ve felt the lessons from my favourite Sci-Fi TV show could be used in your personal and work life.

Wait for it…… Yes, I have finally admitted that I’m a “Trekkie”. Here’s what you’ll find when you type the word “Trekkie” into a search engine..





noun: Trekkie; plural noun: Trekkies; noun: Trekker; plural noun: Trekkers

  1. A fan of the US science fiction television programme Star Trek.

So, based on the above, I’ve been a Trekker for a long time. In-fact, I’ve been a Trekkie ever since I remember watching TV, it was probably the first show that I watched. I remember being captivated by the central characters and the sound track, not to mention the low budget effect on offer.

So, back to the blog post I saw a few years ago….

Kirk, Spock and Mcoy looking serious on an “Away Mission”..

As a fan of the show I was inspired and awed by the central character, and as a fan of the original show (Star Trek : The Original Series) I was always in the “Captain James T Kirk” camp, essentially you’re either in the “Kirk” or “Spock” camp. He (Kirk) had ability to lead through danger, through insurrection, keep his crew ship-shape, dialogue with his logical science officer (Spock), his emotive doctor (McCoy) and who can forget his ever cynical Chief Engineer (“More WARP Speed Scotty!”).

So here’s the lessons of leadership from Kirk from the article I read;

Get with the Away Team.

“Risk is our business. That’s what this starship is all about. That’s why we’re aboard her.”

This is my personal favourite…. Get involved and get involved by going deep — know your subject matter in order to get things done. Kirk was pretty much de-facto on all away missions, which meant beaming or travelling to a strange planet and getting into harms way.

Kirk was a hands-on leader and in some episodes, was seen undertaking starship operations when a crew member was incapacitated. Leading from the front, which is what Kirk did well, is what we all look for and gain inspiration from. Kirk was prepared to do the things that even the most junior crew member was tasked to do, clean the floor if he had to. This set a code of conduct on the starship which was followed by all of the era’s after the very first starship.

When you’re not involved with the away team you become distant, trapped in a corner office and you don’t understand the front lines anymore. Trust becomes a paradigm shift — one that isn’t easily bought when you’re no longer connected with the “how-to” of your team. Kirk gained trust in his crew as he implicitly knew the decision and actions that were needed and he knew the process well. He stayed connected as a leader.

Be the learning leader.

“You know the greatest danger facing us is ourselves, an irrational fear of the unknown. But there’s no such thing as the unknown — only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood.”

Kirk always had a reputation for learning and adapting to the situation and this was demonstrated in pretty much every episode of Star Trek, learnings which he took into the next encounter or the engagement. In particular, his ability to relay things he had learnt many years ago in order to win an encounter, things he may have learnt at the Academy but weren’t obvious at the time of him attaining knowledge. He understood the principle that the more knowledge you have, the more creative your solution to a problem and your methods to solving obstacles in your way.

Ask for opinions from different people.

“One of the advantages of being a captain, Doctor, is being able to ask for advice without necessarily having to take it.”

Kirk was able to take advice from many different sources, his closest advisors; his logical first officer (Spock) and his insanely emotive Doctor McCoy. Both had different approaches and solutions and both had different courses of actions that could have be taken at the time. Sometimes the arguments came to fruition on the bridge and usually in the heat of the battle. What was consistent though was that both characters offered opinions and outcomes that he (Kirk) himself may not have thought of. He valued their contribution and fostered an organizational culture of trust and openness of conflict, importantly the ability for people to speak up and challenge without being pushed down.

Kirk was a strong leader and this was demonstrated in his ability not to have “Yes Men” around, but in-fact have very capable officers working for him, people who were empowered to ask questions and offer their world view without being shot down. This type of organisation structure is critical in a place where creativity makes the difference to make the next leap or innovation change. Essentially, he ensured that even his most junior crew member was taken seriously and had a say.

Play Poker and often.

“Not chess, Mr. Spock. Poker. Do you know the game?”

Poker play is what separates the best of a bunch

I agree with article, this has to be the episode that shows how Kirk deals with a life or death situation. Faced with an unknown entity who wants to wipe out the crew imminently, Kirk asks around for options. He receives one from Spock, that the game of chess they’re playing has run out of moves and there are no winning moves left. Kirk replies back with the view point that they should play “Poker” instead.

Kirk’s version of Poker is that he bluffs the entity into thinking that the ship’s hull as a secret energy shield — that has only every been used once, which, when used, resulted in the complete destruction of the aggressor. Now, I’m not prescribing that we should all pursue a path of bets and bluffs in business and life. Making a bet is part of a successful strategy, knowing your market, customer and competitor and placing bets on product development and timing is sometimes a guess with a strong vision (think Apple iPhone). Think about the game of Chess, its thoughtful, slow, rigid and to win you need a complete strategy the covers all bases — in business this type of response is expensive and you cannot win on all fronts and covering all bases. Poker is the complete opposite and often the outcomes land with those who are outlandish and have a vision (think Bezos).

Be prepared to destroy the Enterprise.

Kirk was prepared to change and pivot in “The Search for Spock”

Did I really say that?!.. Yes I did and this did happen in one of the movies. All Star Trek captains had one thing in common, and that is the strong endearment for their starship (or product / service in our world). Destroying their starships, was never on the list.

In the Star Trek film that I mention, Kirk made the decision (painful as it was) to destroy his first love, “The Enterprise”. He did this so that he could survive and fight again. Survival for him and the crew meant they had to face up to the truth that their way had to change and a new direction was needed, and an uncomfortable truth was required. Sometimes we get too close to our own “Enterprises” and forget that there are always other ways of doing things, other paths and ultimately different ways to drive the same outcome.

Don’t get hung up on the Product / Ways of working / Tools / Services / Mantra’s that you create. Be prepared to pivot and change if they don’t or make any sense any longer.