Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek series changed the face of science fiction on television and in the movies. This was a groundbreaking event in entertainment, with millions of fans faithfully following the adventures of the characters in Roddenberry’s future universe. It spawned a series of hit movies, books, and merchandising that is still the model.
Star Trek pioneered a number of television events; including its evolving treatment of women and minorities, views on diversity, and the foreshadowing of a number of technological innovations that are now in common use.
Less noted, but nonetheless significant for anyone interested in leadership, is that Star Trek also provides a primer on effective leadership techniques. For the student of leadership, a close look at the captains of the various vessels and stations in the Star Trek TV shows, movies and books, provides illustrations of the basic skills of effective leadership.
James T. Kirk: The first on-screen of the USS Enterprise, Kirk was the model of a “lead from the front” commander. An out of the box thinker, he never let rules or regulations keep him from getting the job done.
Jean Luc Picard: At first glance, Picard strikes the viewer as a stuffy, ‘by the book’ prude. His strong points, however, were that he had high ethical and performance standards for the crew of his Enterprise, which he applied first to himself, and he recognized his interpersonal flaws and took steps to mitigate them. He also demonstrated effective techniques for balancing personal relationships with duty in his not so secret crush (no pun intended) on the ship’s doctor, Beverly Crusher.
Benjamin Sisko: The commander of Deep Space Nine, Sisko was a master at effectively motivating and leading a diverse work force. His greatest strength was his ability to delegate tasks, with full authority, to others, while retaining responsibility for them. He also demonstrated extensive skill in conflict resolution as he maintained peaceful relations between the various species in his quadrant of space.
Kathryn Janeway: Captain of the Voyager, lost in the unknown Gamma Quadrant, Janeway epitomizes the leader who is comfortable with change and uncertainty. She demonstrated a steady focus on her mission and the ability to communicate her vision to her followers.
Jonathan Archer: The newest of the on-screen Enterprise captains, Archer was chronologically the first, commanding earth’s first deep space exploration mission. He had to ‘write his own book.’ Having only the most general of directions from his superiors, and no knowledge of the conditions he would face until events occurred, he had to constantly think on his feet.
Along with their unique personality traits, each of Star Trek’s leaders had some common characteristics that are essential for all effective leaders.
– Focus on people. Their crews were not mere tools to be used to accomplish a mission, but unique individuals, each with a contribution to make.
– Ability to communicate. Whether with members of their crews, or with alien species encountered during their missions, each had the ability to get their message across effectively.
– Willingness to take risks. From the rash Kirk to the stolid Picard, a common trait of each of these captains was the courage to “go where no one had gone before,” and the ability to make decisions with whatever limited information was available to them.
– Honesty and integrity. Their subordinates could trust what they said, because they lived up to the standards they set. Each of them ‘walked the talk.’In the 21st century, we face many ‘frontiers.’ As we prepare to go where humanity has never gone before, it might just be useful to dust off those old Star Trek DVDs, or dig a book or two off the shelf, for a refresher course on what it takes to be an effective leader in the face of unknown challenges.
For a look at a military perspective on the leadership lessons to be learned from Star Trek, check out: