Star Trek: What Can It Teach Us About Leadership? By Maureen Metcalf
In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek, my co-author Dan Mushalko and I wanted to explore answers to this question: What traits from this iconic series apply to current leadership? That question probably seems particularly odd coming from meâthe person who continually talks about the future of leadership.
Some background. In an interview with Dan Mushalko, General Manager of public radio station WCBE and a former NASA geek, and Jim Ritchie-Dunham, Harvard researcher and CEO of the Institute for Strategic Clarity vibrancy became a topic. And an interesting correlation emergedâthe connection between the vibrancy theory, the vibrant performance of the radio station, and Star Trek. I wasnât surprised given what I know about my colleagues, but I was delighted to share this in an interview. I have the good fortune of having these conversations regularly and find them quite fun.
As a foundation for this discussion, letâs start with what I think about innovating ourselves as leaders.
There are a few different tactics for effective leaders, but all include these:
â¢Build on your past successes (should be about 80 percent of your development energy)
â¢Identify what to change because it is getting in your way (should be about 20 percent of your development energy)
â¢Identify what to stop doing even if it got you where you areâbecause the question is, will it get you to the next step on your journey(what you save here will add to your available energy)?
So, this blog post started based on a conversation about the similarity between the transporters on the starship Enterprise and transforming organizations. When the captain and crew use a transporter, their molecules are momentarily disassembled, beamed away as particles (hence the phrase, âBeam me up, Scotty!â), then rearranged whole again at their destination.
Implementing major organizational transformation feels much the same way, as though our molecules have been rearranged. For many of us, we find that we need to fundamentally change how we see ourselves as leaders; we rearrange our thinking, self-image, and mind-set. There are times I would truly prefer to have my molecules rearranged than spend time changing who I am as a leader. Yet this is the foundation of innovating how we lead: We innovate ourselves!
The parallels with Star Trek go even further. For example, there are enormous similarities between highly-effective leaders and the leadership modeled âon the bridge.â As we think about what we build on during our own pasts, looking at what has been true and effective for fifty years of Star Trekâs captains is a good place to start:
â¢be aware of the new environment, and welcome changes as opportunities
â¢there is infinite diversity through infinite combinationsâeveryone and everything creates opportunity
â¢the more uniqueness you find, the higher potential you have
â¢the Federation of Planets leverages collaboration; teams and departments do the same
â¢everyone is seen and appreciated for their contributionâthere is infinite potential in the world.
As you look at this list, how would you rate yourself on each item. If you used a 1-5 scale where 1 is low and 5 is high, where would you score over a 4? Does this list inspire you to ask questions about your mindset?
During the interview, we also talked with Jim Ritchie-Dunham about the idea of organizational vibrancy. One of the core principles is that our world is abundant. This is far from a wishful statement that evokes the image of wishful thinking or worse, it is based on the concept that there is infinite possibility in the universe to innovate out of our current challenges. It is through our diversity and uniqueness that we, as people, can welcome change and create opportunities to change our circumstances to improve our trajectory along with improving the trajectory of others. We create a vibrant world when we join together to create innovative solutions rather than when we discount people and their thinking and consequently forego opportunities.
As a leader, it is important to continually update mindset, skills, and behaviors. It is also important to recognize the foundational truths about how we work with other people that remain as effective today as they did in our past. What are your personal foundations which hold true for you? If you are a Trekker, what did you learn from Star Trek that you have taken into your own leadership roles? To hear Dan and Jim Ritchie-Dunham discuss this connection further, please listen to segment three of their interview.
To become a more innovative leader, please consider our online leader development program. For additional tools, we recommend taking leadership assessments, using the Innovative Leadership Fieldbook and Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, and adding coaching to our online innovative leadership program. We also offer several workshops to help you build these skills.
About the Authors
Maureen Metcalf, founder and CEO of Metcalf & Associates, Inc., is a renowned executive advisor, author, speaker, and coach who brings thirty years of business experience to provide high-impact, practical solutions that support her clientsâ leadership development and organizational transformations. She is recognized as an innovative, principled thought leader who combines intellectual rigor and discipline with an ability to translate theory into practice. Her operational skills are coupled with the strategic ability to analyze, develop, and implement successful strategies for profitability, growth, and sustainability.
In addition to working as an executive advisor, Maureen designs and teaches MBA classes in Leadership and Organizational Transformation. She is also the host of an international radio show focusing on innovative leadership, and the author of an award-winning book series on Innovative Leadership, including the Innovative Leaders Guide to Transforming Organizations, winner of a 2014 International Book Award.
Dan Mushalko, General Manager, Operations & Program Director at WCBE-FM and Owner, Mushalkoâs Radiophonic Lab. A bizarre, convoluted professional life has taken Dan everywhere from a short stint at NASA to a long ride in radioâ¦with experiences often overlapping. The thread through it all? A mix of creativity and leadership. So call the culmination of the cyber-man you read before you a Creative Leader. Thatâs his current incarnation. Specialties: Station management, creative concepts in audio (ads, news, and drama), implementing new communications technology, listener analytics, creativity fostering and consulting, âteachingâ writing and science.