Saturday, July 20, 2013

What Would Picard Do

Over at Difficult Run, Nathaniel Givens was kind enough to link to a previous post about Captain Kirk. He mentioned that he is personally "a greater fan of Jean Luc than James T" (I tend to prefer Picard as well, though at times I feel torn). I had originally intended to do one big post on sci-fi management, featuring several articles by Forbes writer Alex Knapp. However, the outcome would have been quite excessive for a blog post and given my tendency to be long-winded as it is, I figured I should break them up and make it a recurring theme.

So, without further ado, here are Five Leadership Lesson from Jean-Luc Picard:

  1. Speak to People in the Language They Understand. (Or, it's okay to threaten a Klingon.)
    • In my experience, communication is a matter of patience and imagination. I would like to believe that these are qualities that we have in sufficient measure.
"Even in an era where universal translators could translate virtually every language imaginable," writes Knapp, "communication is more than just a matter of language. The different races that Picard encountered had their own cultures, customs and values. In order to work effectively with them, he mastered the ability to communicate with them on his own terms." Intercultural communication is a major aspect of international management education and practice. With the increase of globalization and multinational corporations, understanding and communicating differing cultures becomes more and more crucial. In the episode "Darmok," Picard and crew come into contact with the Children of Tama in an attempt to negotiate a non-aggression pact. Their language is seemingly as "incomprehensible" as past encounters had reported. Even Commander Data, who says to have contacted 1,754 non-human races during his tenure at Starfleet, could not make sense of it. It was not until the Tamarian captain transports himself and Picard to the planet below to face "the beast" together that Picard begins to understand the imagery and metaphors behind the Tamarian language. There is a reason Walter Hart of Norfolk State University uses this episode in his Intercultural Communication courses. Picard's "patience and imagination" pays off, averts a conflict, and paves the way for future discussions with the Tamarians. In one of the most touching scenes of the episode, Picard finally grasps the myth of Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra and shares the Epic of Gilgamesh with the dying Tamarian captain. Through shared experience and mythology, the two become friends (Picard is later seen reading Homer; revisiting Earth's mythology with hopes that it will help get in touch with that of the Tamarians).

Furthermore, this approach to communication influences the organization at large. During his Academy testing in the episode "Coming of Age," Wesley Crusher responds to a belligerent Starfleet member with aggression, asking, "Do you want this to become violent??" Wesley reveals the individual to be a Zaldan, a webbed-handed race that despises courtesy (it is seen a superficial ploy to hide true emotion). The Zaldan leaves on a friendly note. I'm willing to bet that Picard's skilled interactions with various alien groups did not go unnoticed by the young Wesley.

     2.  When You're Overwhelmed, Ask for Help
    • You wanted to frighten us. We’re frightened. You wanted to show us we were inadequate. For the moment, I grant that. You wanted me to say ‘I need you.’? I NEED you!
The above quote comes from the episode "Q Who?" after the crew of the Enterprise-D encounters the Borg for the first time. The battle was brought on by the near-omnipotent Q, who has enjoyed toying with Picard since the very beginning of The Next Generation. Having lost 18 crew members and the ship's shields, Picard finally requests Q's aid. With a snap of his fingers, the rather impressed Q returns the ship to its original point and out of harm's way. "That was a difficult admission," Q tells the Captain. "Another man would have been humiliated to say those words. Another man would have rather died than ask for help." Picard displayed humility. It is important to have "enough self-awareness to know when you’re overwhelmed, when the odds are against you and when you know you can’t win the battle by yourself. In those situations, a prudent leader will ask for help...It takes a great deal of confidence to admit that you need help...How many of us have been on doomed projects because the project leader was too proud or too blind to ask for help?" Business author and former Stanford professor Jim Collins found that "great" (not merely "good") companies featured Level 5 Leaders: individuals who placed the focus on the organization and its cause rather than themselves and who demonstrated a professional will and ambition to bring this cause about. "When the time came, Picard wasn’t afraid to ask for help. That allowed him and his crew to fight another day – and on that day, they did defeat the Borg."

     3.  Always Value Ethical Actions Over Expedient Ones
    • There are times, sir, when men of good conscience cannot blindly follow orders.
In the episode "Measure of a Man," "Starfleet had ordered Lt. Commander Data, an android, to disassembly and experimentation in the hopes that Starfleet could manufacture more androids...Picard recognized that Data was a sentient being worthy of the rights of other members of the Federation. He argued Data’s case passionately in a Starfleet legal hearing...His argument was convincing, and led Starfleet and the Federation to respect Data’s rights. This paved the way for the rights of other sentient artificial intelligences to be recognized by the Federation later."

Leadership often provides "a number of temptations to do the wrong thing to make yourself look better...It’s in those times we should look to Picard as an example of maintaining our integrity, no matter the short-term costs. In the long-term, integrity is what matters." It is especially important for those in leadership positions (not to be equated with leadership) to maintain their honesty and integrity. Research by management experts Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman found that leaders create a ceiling within organizations:

The graph below shows the average of all leaders, along with the highest- and the lowest-rated organizations. In all three organizations, the rating decreases at every level as you move down the management chain...Generally speaking, in our long years of collecting 360 responses, we have found the top managers in an organization create a ceiling — that is, leaders the next level down tend to be rated lower than their managers on every leadership dimension — and that includes their honesty and integrity. In other words, levels of honesty are set at the top and can only go downhill from there.

     4. Challenge Your Team to Help Them Grow
    • Lieutenant, you are a member of this crew, and you will not go into hiding whenever a Klingon vessel uncloaks!
When "Worf lost his honor in order to prevent the Klingon Empire from going to war, Picard still insisted that Worf deal with the Klingons who came to the Enterprise. He did that even though for Worf, facing other Klingons while he was dishonored caused him a great deal of distress and shame. By having Worf face his people, Worf came out of the end of his period of dishonor a much stronger Klingon, and later in both The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, Worf was much more inclined to follow his conscience even if it shamed him in front of Klingons. In other words, Picard helped guide Worf into becoming a stronger and more capable man." Being a good leader means shaking things up, pushing people to do better, and battling complacency. But providing difficult assignments that strengthen already capable team members is not the end of it. One must be willing to allow members the autonomy and remain flexible and supportive if they fail. When Commander Riker was granted Q's powers, Picard allowed him to offer gifts to his fellow crew members (e.g. adulthood for Wesley, vision for La Forge). It was not until the crew members began to decline and Q uttered to Wesley, "But it's easier, boy!" that Riker realized his mistake. Turning to the Captain, Riker said, "How did you know, Sir? I feel like such an idiot." Picard simply smiled and said, "Quite right, so you should." Lesson learned without reprimand and Riker was better for it. Failure is a necessary part of innovation. Creating a culture that fears mistakes will stifle both individual and company growth.[1]

     5. Don't Play It Safe -- Seize Opportunities in Front of You
    • Seize the time… – live now! Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.
"In the episode “Tapestry,” Picard has a near-death experience in which he is visited by Q. Q gives him the opportunity to change one thing about his life, and Picard chooses to avoid the fight in which he lost his heart. At that point, Picard is thrust into the timeline that is the result of that act. In this timeline, Picard never rose above the rank of Lieutenant. He never got a command, because he had no goals. He drifted. He played it safe. And ultimately, his life didn’t amount to much. "

While often more cautious and disciplined than Kirk, Picard had a unique firsthand experience with the costs and benefits of seizing opportunities. Ultimately, opportunities come and go. We must take them when we have the chance.

I know I said five, but let's add a sixth:

     6. Look Beyond the Mechanics--Constructing Meaning

Peter Drucker viewed organizations as potential centers of meaning in a purposeless, secular world.[2] With research indicating how powerful a motivator "purpose" is in people's lives,[3] leaders need to be at the helm of providing a vision for those they lead. While enroute to Starbase 515, Picard asks the young Wesley Crusher if he had read a book he had given him. Wesley replied with "some of it," an answer Picard sarcastically found "reassuring." Wesley protested, saying that he lacked the time for William James, a person that would not be on his upcoming Starfleet exams. Picard wisely notes, "The important things never will be. Anyone can be trained in the mechanics of piloting a starship...It takes more. Open your mind to the past--art, history, philosophy--and all this may mean something." A small teaching moment, but one that indicates Picard saw beyond the basics of his job. Passing on this outlook is an important skill for any leader.

Captain Picard, though different from Kirk, has his own set of traits and skills that can benefit any leader:

We need to learn to empathize with others so we can communicate with them effectively. We need to have the confidence to ask for help when we’re overwhelmed without feeling humiliated. When faced with the choice a famous wizard offered, between “what is right and what is easy,” we have to do what is right. We need to challenge our teams to grow and change so they can adapt to any situation. We need to seize opportunities as they come so that we don’t coast through our lives. Follow these lessons, and they’ll take us on the next stage of exploration. Which, in the words of Q on the show, is “not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence.”

1. See Peter M. Madsen, Vinit Desai, "Failing to Learn? The Effects of Failure and Success on Organizational Learning in the Global Orbital Launch Vehicle Industry," Academy of Management Journal 53:3 (2010). 

2. See Madeline Toubiana, Gad Yair, "The Salvation of Meaning in Peter Drucker's Oeuvre," Journal of Management History 18:2 (2012) for an interesting look at the German theological roots behind Drucker's management theory and views of the organization.

3. See Daniel H. Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (New York: Riverhead Books, 2009).

1 comment:

  1. "Buried deep within you, beneath all the years of pain and anger, there is something that has never been nurtured: the potential to make yourself a better man. And that is what it is to be human. To make yourself more than you are." W.W.P.D.