5 leadership lessons from the captains of Star Trek

Picture of Grace O'Brien
Posted by Grace O'Brien

Few science fiction franchises can claim to be as inspirational as the philosophical heavyweight that is Star Trek. Far from being a quaint canon of quirky aliens, Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek has been an unending source of inspiration and leadership lessons. In this article, Grace O’Brien pulls out some of the best insights.

OK, that may be a bit of an overstatement. But it definitely goes without saying that there are some leadership lessons to be learned from this popular franchise.

So we’re going taking the captain’s chair to bring you five leadership lessons from the captains of Star Trek. Read on and start improving your intergalactic people management skills.

1. Speak to people in their own language

5 leadership lessons from the captains of Star Trek: Picard and Worf

Captain Jean Luc Picard’s ability to empathise with others and understand their culture and behaviour that made him successful.

In Season 5 of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Picard finds himself being held captive by the Tamarians, a supposedly amiable community in the Eladrel solar system. To get escape, Picard learns to communicate with his Tamarian counterpart in his native tongue – which has no concept of the individual, and consists entirely of metaphors.

Picard’s example shows the power of understanding and talking to people in their own language, both literally and figuratively. Watch how your colleagues and clients communicate. Learn the key phrases and terms they use and engage them in a way that is familiar to them. It shows respect in a globalised world, and will improve your business relationships and dialogues.

2. Join the away team

5 leadership lessons from the captains of Star Trek: Kirk with Red Shirts

A good captain doesn’t just command from the bridge.

Picard, Kirk, Janeway and the rest of Starfleet’s finest knew the importance of delegation. But they were often on the ground with their teams, exploring new territories and negotiating with both friends and foe.

Treat your staff like colleagues, not minions. Avoid leading at an arm’s length by getting directly involved in projects, participating in team activities and raising your hand to help with tasks and deliverables. You’ll empower your team (and perhaps save a few Red Shirts in the process.)

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3. Have a set of values, and stay true to them

5 leadership lessons from the captains of Star Trek: Captain Picard

When stranded in the Delta Quadrant thousands of light-years from Earth, Captain Kathryn Janeway and the crew of the USS Voyager relied on Starfleet’s core values to see them through their decade-long journey home.

Having a clearly articulated set of values keeps you motivated, focused on your goals and accountable for your actions. It also gives you something to draw on when you have to make tough decisions or find yourself being attacked by the Borg.

4. Encourage disagreement, ask for advice and embrace diversity

5 leadership lessons from the captains of Star Trek: Spock

What would Captain Kirk be without the cool rationality of Commander Spock or the vocal discontent of Doctor McCoy? How would Captain Sisco have functioned without Dax in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine?

The best Starfleet captains surrounded themselves with advisors and crew from all different backgrounds. They embrace diversity and encourage difference of opinion. Dissent, disagreement and diversity on the bridge lead to some of the most ground-breaking, innovative moments in Star Trek. It’s an inspiration for all of us in business and management.

5. Stay hydrated

5 leadership lessons from the captains of Star Trek: Captain Janeway

It seems silly, but if there’s one thing we all learned from the captains of Star Trek it was that staying on top meant staying hydrated.

Whether you enjoy a cup of Earl Grey like Picard or prefer a long black like Janeway, staying hydrated is important for keeping your mood, energy and concentration levels in check.

But there’s more to this than your own personal health. Fostering a ‘coffee culture’ is a great way to get your team together, away from their screens, to socialise and seek support. The Swedish call this fika, and it makes a big difference to overall workplace happiness.

Leadership lessons: make it so

There’s so much more to be learned from Star Trek. Just take a look at this research paper in the International Journal of Business and Social Science or this book by Wess Roberts. But these five leadership lessons will have you on track to being more effective in your role.

And if they don’t work for you, there’s always Star Wars.

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