3 lessons Star Trek can teach us about leadership

I took my son to “Into Darkness”, the new Star Trek movie, over the weekend.   In the opening 5 minutes Captain James T. Kirk is already in trouble for breaking Star Fleet’s rules in order to save his first mate, Mr. Spock and Kirk’s insubordination continues from there.  Sitting in my chair munching popcorn I tried to make sense of it. Here is the weekend’s highest grossing movie telling us that a true leader breaks rules, leads with his gut and allows other to have power more willingly than anybody else. This goes against everything we learn in the workplace! Why is it we spend millions in ‘leadership training’ in corporate America to convince management layers everywhere to do just the opposite?

I constantly read blogs and articles about leadership; what makes a good leader, what we need to do to be better leaders and a call for more leaders in business.   Perhaps we need some different training if we are going to get heroes like James T. Kirk to run our call centers, marketing departments and sales teams?

Let’s take a peek at a new 3-day Star Fleet curriculum on leadership:

Day 1: Break all the rules
Most leadership courses tell leaders they must concentrate on fairness. Not this course. Leaders need to thumb their nose at convention. But beware. New leaders will have to pay additional attention to their intentions if they wish to be great leaders. Captain Kirk is willing to break any rule or treat different individuals differently in order to get the most from his team for the greater good of his mission. Certainly there is a danger in telling managers to offer different rewards to different individuals for the same actions as there is a chance they will be viewed as unfair. Likewise, by breaking the rules they can be viewed as uncaring or ‘above the law’. But the key here is to concentrate on the correct motives. If we can convince managers to operate selflessly, breaking the rules is not only recommended, it is necessary if the business is to achieve greatness and defeat mediocrity.

Day 2: Lead with your gut
Being emotionally engaged is often considered a drawback in a manager and I have seen passion for a job ruin more than one trip up the corporate rungs. Perhaps this is why there is such discontent at the growing size of executive salaries? If shareholders and onlookers saw that businesses were being run by smart and gutsy leaders who were ready to fail and face consequences, perhaps there would be a different opinion. Because these leaders would be seen as real risk-takers who were willing to risk it all personally. Most people are Instilling this in leaders is challenging. A distaste for failure is the reason why. I think that a higher sense of purpose is the way to lower this aversion. James T Kirk certainly has that.

Day 3: Giving Power Away
According to Star Trek and our culture at large the way to true power is the willingness to relinquish it to others. So, why do so many leadership classes emphasize control over the organization? It is counter-intuitive. And relinquishing control if the power owner is not viewed as a leader to begin with is a recipe for disaster. But if we have learned anything in day one and two of this course, the third point not only makes sense, it is a key to incredible success. Empowerment in employees is at an abysmal low in many organizations. And empowerment drives morale and productivity. By giving others an ability to show their passions and exhibit the traits in Day one and two of this leadership course, not only are we creating a more productive team, we are also creating future leaders.

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