Space: the final frontier. At a distance of countless light-years from Earth, starship Enterprise advances to galaxies where no man has gone before. It might not be 2200 yet, but exceptional leadership qualities are also what 21st century corporate leaders need to prevail in our BANI* world and succeed in making their companies fit for the future.
In light of the upcoming Star Trek Day on September 8, 2022, WU Executive Academy Dean Barbara Stöttinger has analyzed the leadership qualities of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Bones, and Scotty to tell us what today’s leaders can learn from them.
* Brittle, Anxious, Non-linear, and Incomprehensible.
When the first episode of Star Trek was initially broadcast in the US on September 8, 1966, its creator Gene Roddenberry was probably not aware of how much the series was ahead of its time.
Not only did the crew of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701 include a US-American (Captain Kirk), an Asian (helmsman Sulu), a Russian (navigator Chekov), a Scottish (chief engineer Scotty), and even a Vulcan member (Commander Spock), but communications officer Uhura was also the first female African American in a leadership position. And the kiss between Lieutenant Uhura and Captain Kirk was the first ever interracial TV kiss. Light-years away from Earth, the USS Enterprise was on a peaceful mission to explore new worlds and new civilizations – for the benefit of all (humankind and other civilizations). Captain Kirk also believed that, as a leader, he would be able to contribute to changing the world and other galaxies for the better.
Very progressive, considering that it was the mid-1960s, a time when the world experienced the (first) climax of the Cold War. Racial segregation was still part of everyday life and paternalistic hierarchies (hard-working and loyal workers were rewarded or at least kept on; lower levels answered to upper levels and did what they asked them to) were still considered state-of-the-art in the corporate world.
In addition to the above-mentioned achievements, the crew of the USS Enterprise also had a concept of leadership that was ahead of their time.
Barbara Stöttinger, Dean of the WU Executive Academy, has taken a closer look at what makes Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Scotty special and what today’s leaders can learn from them:
Wouldn’t we all just love to have a boss like Captain James T. Kirk?
Kirk is a natural-born leader, always leading by example. He’s efficient, intelligent, and charismatic, emanating an almost magnetic attraction. Like no one else, Kirk knows how to motivate his crew to work together, achieve common goals, and change course, if necessary. He always stays completely focussed, even in difficult situations, and is not afraid to make hard and unpopular decisions. Even though he’s always ready to take risks, he never forgets his responsibility for the 400 members of his crew and the spaceship.
As captain of the USS Enterprise, he’s perfectly able to do almost everything himself (even navigating the spaceship on his own, if necessary). Still, he always trusts his crew’s expertise, usually basing his decisions on the estimations and recommendations issued by Spock, Bones, Scotty, Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura. Of course, Kirk also challenges his crew – particularly Scotty, whose protests against diverting power to the protective shields and other important functions of the spaceship are usually ignored.
Lessons to be learned from Kirk:
Mr. Spock is known for his characteristic line, “Fascinating!” That’s how he reacts to phenomena which others perceive as either unbelievable or threatening. This underlines his scientific and neutral perspective on things that makes him regard tricky and complex situations as challenging rather than perilous. Thanks to his outstanding proficiency in handling computers and cutting-edge technology, Spock is able to save his colleagues and the USS Enterprise in several episodes. He’s a very objective leader with a hands-on attitude. He doesn’t rely on lengthy explanations but leads by example.
Lessons to be learned from Spock:
Leonard “Bones” McCoy is the chief medical officer and a good friend of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. Kirk often asks McCoy for advice, confiding in him, particularly in difficult situations. McCoy’s never afraid to speak his mind, contradicting his captain whenever he thinks that Kirk is wrong. He may not be as charismatic and driven as Kirk, nor as reasoning and serious as Spock, but they both appreciate his input, usually offered outside his actual area of expertise, which is to provide medical care to the crew. His famous lines, such as “Damn it, man, I’m a doctor, not a physicist!” or “What am I, a doctor or a moon shuttle conductor?”, illustrate the variety of contexts in which he has to support Kirk.
McCoy loves to think of himself as “just a country doctor.” Nevertheless, he often demonstrates both his sharp intellect and compassionate empathy.
Lessons to be learned from Bones:
Leaders with comprehensive expertise are an essential part of every team; they’re the backbones of their organizations. Scotty is the perfect example of such a leader: he doesn’t like being in the spotlight; instead, he skillfully pulls the strings behind the scenes. He’s capable of working at full tilt even in stressful situations and under extreme pressure. His professional work also makes it possible for Kirk, Spock, and the others to complete their tasks without encountering major difficulties and become the actual heroes (of the story). If the engine fails unexpectedly and for unknown reasons, Scotty and his team start narrowing down the issue. In such situations, Scotty reacts fast and based on well-funded decisions. His intuition always gives him new ideas for a solution. He perceives every attempt at solving a problem as a lesson to learn from and further expand his experience-based know-how. And the most important thing: he never gives up.
Lessons to be learned from Scotty:
In spite of his progressive and visionary thinking, Gene Roddenberry still missed one aspect when creating the USS Enterprise and its crew of leaders back in the mid-1960s – an aspect that is essential from today’s point of view: there’s not a single female leader among the top managers of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701, the heavy cruiser of the Constitution class.
That’s why we’d like to add one entry to the “Captain’s log:” Stardate 2022. Commander Scott. Captain, we have a problem – a problem concerning the share of women on the bridge. And we’re not the only ones...