A Sci-Fi Guide to Leadership (Kirk, Picard and Yoda … Oh My!)

William Shatner as Kirk in a promotional photo...

William Shatner as Kirk in a promotional photograph (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most of us watch Sci-Fi as an escape – an escape from the drudgery, ugliness and general unfairness of our workaday lives. Whether a particular book, TV show or movie shows an idealized Utopian future, or the terrifying possibilities of what has yet to come, science fiction offers the creator the unique chance to shed light on the existing problems of today, without being shackled by the constraints of current “reality”.

Take Star Trek, in all of its iterations, for example. It has long been cited for its role in 1960’s TV in exposing the issues of the day – race relations, gender inequality, and the pitfalls of a capitalistic society. After all, not only did William Shatner get involved in the first interracial kiss on network television, but he helped point out (not too subtly, I might add) the inherent silliness of a race of two-tone people discriminating against their brethren, whose white and black skin coloring differed only by which side of their body was light or dark.

Star Trek: The Next Generation was even more egalitarian, growing, as it did, in the more firmly established culture of working women, supposed color blindness, and all-around “logic”. Deep Space Nine saw an African-American Captain ruling the space station, just as Voyager saw a female Captain – both of whom exhibited leadership skills which would be envied by most of today’s corporate leadership.

From Lost In Space we could see the dangers of selfishness and disobeying leadership. In Battlestar Galactica (at least, the original version) we saw Lorne Greene lead the remainder of humanity on a battle against the evil Ceylons. As we watched Planet of the Apes, we saw a possible end-result of the poor leadership offered by humanity – and how the Apes did little better in their own efforts.

But, to folks of my age bracket anyway, it often comes back to the Stars – Star Trek for its innovative portrayal of a working society, however Utopian, and Star Wars for its in-depth look at the Evil Empire.

Writing for Forbes.com, Alex Knapp has compiled a series of articles showing the best (and worst) leadership qualities these Stars have to offer. I’m not going to list these out, as you can do your own reading. (See the list of articles below.) Instead, I’d like to take this opportunity to come up with my own list of Sci-Fi do’s and don’t’s:

DO: Flirt whenever possible. Okay, it’s not appropriate to be flirting in a professional situation, though Kirk, Riker and Parris seemed, somehow, to make it work. But for every space-age lothario, beware – there is a Geordie, a Dr. Bashir or a Nurse Chapel, doomed to a lonely life of unrequited love. Still, being charismatic, always with a friendly smile does actually get you far in the business world.
DON’T: Be afraid to love. Whether it’s a Vulcan/human combo (Sarek did have a thing for the Earth women), a Human/Half-Klingon combo (since when is Torres a Klingon name?) or an Iowan/Green-Chick combo, the parts always seemed to, um, fit together. Politics makes strange bedfellows, and when you are stuck on a five-year mission through the Alpha Quadrant (or stuck in an office on a five-month project) you don’t always get to choose your colleagues. But try to find the best out of them – sometimes the most unlikely pairings will prove lifelong friendships. Even if the Galaxy is blowing up around you.

DO: Play the cards you’re dealt. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Dwelling on a stalled Hyperdrive or a lack of shielding serves no purpose – sometimes you just have to fly right into that asteroid field, or try to jump-start the Enterprise. You, or your team, or your shipmates, can only use the tools at your disposal, and crying over spilt Saurian Brandy means those bad guys are going to catch up. Fast.
DON’T: Bluff. If you threaten to blow up the planet, be prepared to have your little helmet guys pull the trigger. If you threaten to blow up the ship, be prepared to enter the code “1B, 2B, 3” and press that glowing red button.

DO: Let loose. Look, even Spock and Data stopped to smell the roses. All work and no synthohol makes Scotty a very dull boy. Whether you are the work-hard/party-hard type (like Tom Parris) or the mellow reading poetry in some exotic landscape type (like Spock), everyone needs a little shore leave.
DON’T: Lose control. I really hated it when Picard blew his stack (“no farther!”). I know, it showed him as human, which is a definite DO, but he let his passion get the better of him. He just had a sore spot about those damned Borg. Sure, he had good reason and all that, but I lost total respect for him then. He just seemed like a big baby to me. It was good the crew didn’t see that little hissy fit. Spock, Data and Seven of Nine would all agree with me, too.

DO: It’s okay to swear at a Klingon. When on Romulus, do as the Romulans do. Being a sissy on a Klingon ship is probably a good way to discover all the best Klingon swearwords, but a good sucker punch forgives everything. Every culture is different, and being sensitive to that culture is key to success.
DON’T: It’s not okay to swear at Darth Vader. Some leaders (be they managers or despots) are more forgiving than others. Some want to see that passion, that fire in the belly that some people use as motivation to do the best job possible. Kirk never snapped at Bones’ “I’m a doctor, Jim, not a (fill in your own profession here) but instead let him vent and then move on. Yoda put up with Luke’s whining, too, though I could have done without that. But you have to know your boss (be that your manager, your client or your spouse) and know what lines NOT to cross. Sure, there are customers out there who want you to go out drinking with them, bosses who want to be your friend. But there are just as many clients/Vice Presidents/Emperors out there who would rather have some control over the situation – usually through your fear. Anyway, to make a long answer a little shorter, know your audience.

DO: Hope for the future. The future is what you make it. A real concerted effort to find humanity’s positive side and form the Federation is conceivable. Dream big and take calculated chances, trying to find the most logical solution you can.
DON’T: Count on the future. Whether the problem is a childish omnipotent being, playing with your ship as a new toy, or a planet where speechless humans (at least in the original) were herded and kept as pets by apes on horses, there is not always a happy existence. Even silicon-based life forms have it rough, with folks constantly digging into their birthing chambers. It’s a dangerous universe out there.

In the end, most of us are going to consume Sci-Fi because, well, it’s fun. There are lots of chases, explosions and at least a little bit of sex. Holodecks, replicators and light sabers couldn’t be cooler, and despite the propensity for real evil (really, blowing up Alderaan just to make a point?), it’s comforting to know that (at least in the final book/episode/movie) the good guy will probably win.

But we can still take a little something useful from them.

As the series’ fictitious response of the Empire’s PR department pointed out:

“What’s the alternative? A Galactic Senate? Not only did they fail to stop a whole series of space, or “Star” wars, if you will, they even elected Jar frigging Jar Binks to office! We’re confident that 14 out of 10 people would prefer to be ruled by an evil totalitarian space Hitler in a velore [sic] Snuggy than Jar Jar.”

Almost makes Ewoks look downright cuddly, doesn’t it?

2 Responses to “A Sci-Fi Guide to Leadership (Kirk, Picard and Yoda … Oh My!)”
  1. Jurate says:

    Doug, the Hero! I’m not into sci-fi (am I limiting my venues to escape?), but looky how good your writing is! Greetings, and Thanks.

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