Beam Me Up Scotty
By Peter L DeHaan
was a lazy summer afternoon, a Friday. Things were
a bit slow at the office and upper management had all left to get an
early jump on their weekend. I, being a front-line
manager, did not have that luxury. Besides, I had
work that I wanted to complete before the weekend.
first clue that something was amiss was revealed by increased activity
in the hallway near my office. There was more
movement than usual and at a higher volume. People
were running, not walking. Giggling and excited
shrieking was predominate, rather than reserved talk and
business-appropriate laughter. It seemed that an
impromptu game of tag had materialized.
that my staff had instigated or was somehow involved in this revelry,
I quickly went to investigate. To my relief, the
perpetrators were from a different department. Even
so, my stern look of disapproval was respected enough to send them
scurrying in other directions. I did not know if
they merely retreated in order to find friendlier confines to resume
their childishness or if a wave of common sense and decorum had
suddenly overcome them. Regardless, they vacated my
area and I felt sufficiently removed from any possible ramifications
for their actions. I returned to my office and
returned to the project at hand.
minutes later, the next clue of impropriety came via the overhead
paging system. It was being used, not for
“official business,” but rather for the personal enjoyment of the
restless minions remaining in the building. They
paged a rookie to call an extension; I recognized this to be a
non-existent number. I smiled, envisioning a
frustrated greenhorn dutifully dialing a number that would not work.
Certainly, the conspirators were watching from some hidden
vantage point, gleefully snickering at their co-worker. This
repeated a few times and when their victim became aware of their
scheme, they paged him with a legitimate extension – one of an
uptight secretary, who would have no tolerance of their Tomfoolery.
Now wise to their prank, the resourceful trainee, reciprocated
with a retaliatory page of his own. This soon
escalated to a “paging” war, drawing in more people, with
increasingly ridiculous and outrageous announcements.
final page stopped the misfits in their tracks, leaving them first
chuckling and then bemused. In a reasonable
impersonation of Captain Kirk, one employee accessed the overhead
paging system and with deadpan seriousness announced, “Beam me up,
Scotty; there’s no intelligent life down here.” I
stopped working, smiled, and then laughed. Noticing
it was now after five, I got up, turned off the lights, and went home.
My work could wait for another day.
had a long fascination with Star Trek, repeatedly watching episodes
from the five series, the cartoons (yes, there were Star Trek
cartoons), and the ten movies. Among other things,
Star Trek looks to a promising and exciting future. Many
societal problems are either resolved or greatly minimized in the
future according to Star Trek, providing a mostly utopian existence
where evil is restricted to outside the Federation, rarely to raise
its ugly head amidst the crew of the Enterprise. Star
Trek also has a realistic underlying basis in scientific fact and
sound theory, albeit stretched a bit thin at times (the transporters
are perhaps the biggest scientific leap). Plus,
with good plots and cleverly intertwined story lines, it makes for
it is not optimism for the future, realistic scientific
prognostication, or compelling story lines that have given me the most
pause for consideration, but rather it is the lessons Star Trek
provides in leadership. Entertainment value aside,
I have also looked to Star Trek as a study in effectively and
dramatically leading people and managing staff. What
lessons could I learn from Captains Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway, and
Archer? How do they elicit such devotion and
dedication among their crew?
am not the only one thus intrigued. In the book, Make
It So by Wess Roberts and Bill Ross (ISBN 0-671-52098-9, if you
are interested), the authors share “leadership lessons from Star
Trek The Next Generation.” They cover
relevant topics such as focus, urgency, initiative, competence,
communication, politics, honesty, interdependence, and resiliency.
While the book makes for good business reading, it is even more
rewarding to watch each chapter’s referenced episode, focusing on
the specific leadership citations.
the book draws its conclusions from specific episodes, my preference
is general observations based on the collective Star Trek saga.
Before doing so, we should note that Star Trek’s
military-style command structure is not typically found in the
business world and therefore total employee obedience and unquestioned
employee allegiance are not realistic real-world expectations.
Nevertheless, here are some leadership ideas:
Loyalty: Although Starfleet
personnel are trained to obey their leaders, the Enterprises’ crews
show extreme loyalty to their captains. Why?
Because the captains show extreme loyalty to their crews.
This loyalty is earned, not commanded or demanded. Each
captain was willing to go to great extremes and take on excessive risk
for the sake of an injured, wayward, or stranded member of the crew.
When leaders put everything on the line for a follower, the
follower is much more inclined to do the same for the leader and to
more fully embrace their common cause.
Blame; Share Credit: A true
side of leadership is to shoulder the blame for an erring, but
otherwise worthy subordinate, while being sure to shower accolades on
those deserving it. Conversely, cowardly and
ineffective leaders try to make themselves look good by assigning
blame to others and taking credit for what they did not do.
into Expertise: Starfleet
captains (and all leaders) often put together ad hoc teams for
specific missions or adventures, mixing senior officers with junior
members, who possess a unique skill or training. Junior
staff that is thus tapped are given a great opportunity to rise to the
occasion, performing at a higher level and with increased confidence
and self-esteem. Employees who prove themselves in
this way are promotable and can be groomed for even greater
Unconventional Thinking: A
repeating theme in many Star Trek episodes is the seemingly
unstoppable, irreversible impending disaster. There
appears to be no escape and no plausible solution. Yet
one of the crew, in a moment of creative thinking, extraordinary
deduction, or brilliant intuition will find a unique solution and save
the day. Star Trek captains delight in this and so
do effective leaders. Plus, as unconventional
solutions are rewarded and recognized, their producing behavior is
reinforced and encouraged. Quite simply, great
leaders inspire their charges to innovate
Worthy of Imitation: Each
captain and every effective leader possesses qualities that are
admirable and laudable of emulating. These positive
traits draw both crew and staff to their leaders, compelling them to
be like, act like, and follow the example that they see. When
leaders have no one following them, then perhaps there’re not
admirable enough to be followed, or have some other character flaw.
Real: Each captain is tough
– when he or she needs to be. However, they also
have a human side that those in their inner circle or close proximity
are able to witness. This provides a connection
that can transcend rough spots in relationships and times of stress.
Final Thought: It took me
way too long to realize the ultimate reason that Starfleet captains
are such successful leaders. Quite simply, that’s
how the writers made them!
Read other articles
by Peter DeHaan,
sign up for Peter DeHaan's newsletter to receive
weekly writing tips and information, or visit his website:
[Permission is granted to
reprint or reuse this article, provided credit is given to the author and the
above contact information is included. Notify
and a provide copy or link.]