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:
- 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.
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!
3. Always Value Ethical Actions Over Expedient Ones
- There are times, sir, when men of good conscience cannot blindly follow orders.
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!
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.
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. With research indicating how powerful a motivator "purpose" is in people's lives, 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).