Star Trek Lessons In Leadership

September 22, 2011

11:06 am

As a leader, you get the culture you tolerate.

Take Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise as an example.  Why do you think aliens were always taking over his ship? Why do you think that in the 3 years Kirk lead the Enterprise across the galaxy, he lost 13.7% of his crew, of which 73% wore red shirts (according to SiteLogic founder Matt Bailey)? Why do you think the shields always failed?

Let’s just take a quick look at Kirk’s C-level leader, Chief Engineering Officer Scottie. “I can’t give you more speed, Captain. The engines are about to blow as it is,” and yet he never failed.  He always finished what he previously stated was impossible, just like you knew he would.

Now, we all know why Captain Kirk put up with Scottie. He was too busy trying to use his Intergalactic Starship Cruiser to meet women; he didn’t enforce the kind of discipline required to run a high performing ship. Here’s a man who was responsible for the lives of hundreds of crewman and who commanded the awesome technological power of the Enterprise. How did he use that power? He used it as chick magnet. The Enterprise and the lives of his crew were his Porsche.

So what does this have to do with anything? How many times do you let someone say something, do something, behave unacceptably and just let it go? That’s the start of a slide in culture that leads to the kind of performance that allows aliens to board your vessel.

And how about respect for the worker bee? The lowly Starfleet Red Shirt Security Officer had the most dangerous job in the universe.  Race car driver, test pilots, and alligator wrestlers have lower mortality rates than Enterprise Redshirt crew members.  Let’s face it, beaming down to a planet in a red shirt from the Enterprise was a death sentence and rarely required a round trip ticket.

If leaders are leading, they lead from the front, they don’t ask crew members to take risks that they and their leadership team would not readily accept themselves. Using your workers as cannon fodder returns a lack of enthusiasm, commitment, and morale that leads to inferior performance.

Now Kirk’s replacement Piccard – he is an example of a leader, and here’s why:

  1. He was focused on his mission and his crew and separated his personal needs from his job. He never displayed behavior that could lead his crew to believe that he wasn’t 100% committed to them and the mission.
  2. He modeled the behavior he expected from his crew. He demanded discipline and didn’t tolerate whinning.
  3. He didn’t allow infighting with his senior management, like the constant sniping between Spock and Dr. McCoy.
So the next time you get caught with your shields down, think about how you “show up” at work.  Think about how your team sees you.  Think about what behavior you tolerate and be intentional about creating a company culture of high performance.

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Glen Hellman (@glehel), is an angel investor, serial entrepreneur, and works for venture capitalists as a turn-around specialist. He is the Chief Entrepreneureator at Driven Forward LLC, frequently muses on his blog, Forward Thinking, and works with entrepreneurs to help them figure out what to do and get them to do it.

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