Leadership Lessons from Captain Picard


Keeping with the Star Trek leadership theme, Forbes.com also has an article that documents leadership lessons from Captain Jean-Luc Picard (http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2012/03/13/five-leadership-lessons-from-jean-luc-picard/).  On a personal level, I think Captain Picard was the more believable captain when compared to Captain Kirk from the original series.  Well, as believable as one can expect from a science fiction TV show.  While Kirk often threw caution to the wind and lead missions on foreign and alien worlds, Picard was often the wise one and would not flinch at using diplomacy or non-violent means to achieve his goals.  However, when a fight was imminent, Picard would not hesitate to fire the lasers and photon torpedoes if necessary.

According to the article, Captain Picard demonstrates five leadership lessons that can be applied to real life.

1.  Speak to People in the Language They Understand

Captain Picard realized that when people communicate, they can work more effectively.  Within the show, technology has advanced to the point where not only can humans of different cultures communicate with each other through a universal translator; they were also able to communicate with non-human races.  Picard, on a number of occasions, was able to speak direct Klingon to gain respect among them.  He also was able to develop communication skills with an alien, for which no translations were available.  Through the development of communication, Picard was able to overcome obstacles and achieve success, even in the face of danger.

In the modern business world, leaders and managers not only need to be able to speak the language of their workers, but also will more often and not need to communicate with different cultures.  This can be evident in terms of time or appointments.  One culture may view appointments and timing as flexible and business is only conducted afterwards.  Another culture may view these same appointments as set in stone and not to be missed.  In the modern business world, Picard would be able to work across culture barriers and modify his style to fit in each situation as required.

A leader needs to fully appreciate the fact that each situation is different and often times they need to change their approach.  A heavy-handed approach may work to inspire and fire up the employees in one situation, whereas the same approach may not work in others.  This is very important and once an individual realizes that their preferred approach may work in some situations, but not others, some wisdom has been gained and their effectiveness grows.  Captain Picard was a master or being a friend when needed, but also could be a stern disciplinarian if the situation called for it.

2.  When You’re Overwhelmed, Ask for Help

Pride can be a funny thing.  Some people would rather fail at something that asks someone for help.  Perhaps they see asking for help a sign of weakness or view it as giving up.  People most likely should work a problem for a while before asking someone for some assistance.  Throughout the Star Trek: The Next Generation series, Captain Picard was frequently in difficult situations.  The Forbes.com article lists a particular episode where a recurring character, Q, visits the ship and introduces them to a highly developed and dangerous race, the Borg.  When conventional measures are not sufficient to deal with the situation, Captain Picard has no problems asking for assistance, as Q is omnipotent and all powerful.  A quick snap of his finger was enough to propel the Enterprise out of imminent destruction.

Sometimes people view those who ask for help as being lazy or lacking intelligence or skills.  Individuals should make efforts to resolve problems as when a solution is achieved, it is a very rewarding experience.  However, at some point, efficiency degrades significantly if someone is working a problem for too long.  Personally, I have been in situations where I spent too much working on a problem, when someone else knew the answer.  In times of heightened efficiency demands, working on a problem with a known solution for too long quickly reduces efficiency.  I feel it is the responsibility of the managers and leaders to create a spirit of cooperation, where people do not lose face by asking for help or questions.  They can learn from figuring it out, but after a while, they can also learn from a more skilled and experience co-worker just the same, without losing an employee for too long while figuring out a problem with an elusive solution.  As individuals add tools into their personal toolbox, future problems will be resolved much quicker.

3.  Always Value Ethical Actions Over Expedient Ones

How many companies have been in the news for unethical behavior?  How many have relied on government assistance in order to remain solvent, only to reward executives with large bonuses?  It is easy for people to focus on ethical problems these days, and there are good reasons for doing so.  Maybe the news tends to focus on bad news that makes the broadcasts.  What is more catchy, employees cooking the books at an accounting agency, or an accounting agency that takes a responsible attitude towards the practice of conservatism (taking the lower values over the higher and more optimistic ones, not political leanings)?

Captain Picard would often take ethical stands when making decisions.  The galaxy is a large place, and it would be easy to make unethical decisions when nobody was there in order to bring about a quick solution.  The Forbes.com article lists the episode where Data, an android, is ordered into the custody of scientists who wish to dismantle him and make attempts to figure out how he works, as he is unique.  Captain Picard argues on Data’s behalf on ethical principles.  Data is growing into a person, thus inheriting human rights, according to Captain Picard’s arguments.  The amount of information and technology would be significant if Data were to be taken apart, and many people and organizations would benefit greatly, however, Captain Picard concluded that the loss of ethics and humanity was too large of price to pay for that information.  Ethics should not be optional and only applied when it is convenient, but should be factored into all decisions by everyone.

4.  Challenge Your Team to Help Them Grow

Good quality leaders allow others to grow into leaders themselves.  If a leader of an organization does not allow people to take responsibility or empower them to make decisions, the organization will suffer.  When people have a stake in the organization, they will take ownership of it and do what is within their power to make it better.  A good example would be a car manufacturer that empowers all workers to have the power to make decisions and changes that improve everything.  If they see a problem, give these workers the power to halt the assembly line to make modifications, improvements, or corrections.  Reworking parts or products after assembly is costly and time consuming.  If workers are given responsibility, the will more often than not take pride in their work and as a result, the end product is better.  A selfish person will keep all the responsibility to themselves because their either do not trust people or are arrogant to think they know better.  Either way, innovation and morale decline, and most likely turnover rates will increase.

Throughout the Star Trek: The Next Generation series, Captain Picard quite frequently empowers those under his command to take on more responsibility and challenges.  What he is doing not only benefits these individuals, but he is also enabling the Enterprise to be a high-performing ship long after his departure.  Picard is also battling complacency.  If people get too much into routine things, when a large challenge presents itself, most likely the crew will not perform well.  I often think of the episode where Picard is taken by the Borg, thus leaving the Enterprise to not only attempt a rescue, but to also lead the defense of Earth.  Although just a script, I like to think the Enterprise was well prepared to deal with the tasks at hand as a result of Picard allowing others to become leaders and to take on more responsibility to allow them to be better prepared.  Had Picard micro-managed or forced all decisions to be made by him, how would any of the crewmembers have been prepared to make life and death decisions?

5.  Don’t Play it Safe – Seize Opportunities in Front of You

I have always thought very highly of the episode where Q allowed Captain Picard to change a mistake in his life and see how it would turn out.  Many people may be rebellious or immature in their youth.  Mistakes are often made, but do they learn and grow as a result.  How many people are timid and when an opportunity to be bold presents itself, are they willing to take a chance?  Not everyone is cut from the same cloth as Captain Picard, including myself, but one lesson that can be learned is to take a chance on a good opportunity.

In this episode, when Captain Picard decides to not fight in a bar (he was wounded and required a heart transplant in the original timeline) he quickly realizes that his career was characterized by being timid and afraid of making a decision.  In this new timeline, Picard is still a low ranking officer instead of being the captain.  Although he made a mistake, is was part of his character which allowed him to grow by taking on more opportunities, which eventually led to being the captain of the most prestigious starship.  Q states that this new version of Picard is mapping stars and studying nebulae, instead of charting the unknown possibilities of existence.

Fortes fortuna adiuvat (fortune favors the bold).  Picard’s example shows that people should not be afraid or timid.  Through calculated efforts, chance can be minimized, and opportunities can be realized.  If you fail, dust yourself off and prepare for the next opportunity.  Learn from failures and bad decisions as did Captain Picard, and another decision down the road will most likely be the correct one.

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