Top 10 Essential Leadership Lessons from ‘Star Trek’

We just celebrated the 51st Anniversary of Gene Roddenberry’s “Star Trek.”

The occasion made me think what “Star Trek” meant to me as both a business coach and science fiction fan. Some of my earliest television crushes came from “Star Trek.” My dad and I bonded over the latest “Star Trek” movie. My friends and I would gather each week to watch “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

The most interesting personal revelation?

How much “Star Trek” taught me about leadership. Looking back, K-12 had zero classes on leadership, ethics or teamwork.

“Star Trek” filled the gap.

Here then are the 10 most important leadership lessons learned from watching “Star Trek”:

  1. Equality Isn’t the Same as Equity — The Borg are arguably “Trek’s” best baddies. and their “assimilation” is the antithesis of the strength through diversity ‘Star Trek” embraced. The Borg is the opposite of the Federation. The collective brings different species together but kills everything that’s unique about them in the process. Their primary weapon of choice to assimilate? Technology! The new “Battlestar Galactica” would pick up on this “anti-technology” theme later. “Star Trek,” normally a champion of progress and technology, explored the devastation from the leveling of all voices. What happens to a society that no longer accepts experts in a particular field?
  2. Never Be Afraid to Bluff (Or Call Someone’s Bluff) — If you had to define Captain Kirk’s leadership style one thing would stand out: he was always willing to call someone’s bluff and wasn’t afraid to bluff himself. “The Corbomite Maneuver” may be the best example of this. Being aware that bluffing is part of leadership was a valuable lesson. It’s also why poker should be taught in school.
  3. Laws Are Important — “Star Trek” was no stranger to courtroom drama: “The Magicks of Megas-Tu,” “The Squire of Gothos,” “Court Martial,” “The Drumhead,” “The Menagerie” and “Encounter at Farpoint” just to name a few. I’ll often ask my students, “Why do we have laws?” It’s an important question to consider. Laws ultimately aren’t arbitrary because they protect rights ,and “Star Trek” brilliantly explores how law works in a healthy society.
  4. There’s a Difference Between Moralism and Law — The episode “Drumhead” brilliantly demonstrates this point. Moralism in the best sense is living to a moral code but in it’s worst it’s judging other’s for not living up to that code. Laws define a code of conduct for all and allow the freedom of and from religion. This is obviously a hot topic, but it’s an important distinction and one I first learned from “Star Trek.”
  5. Humanity is Constantly Evolving — Maybe no better lesson offered in “Star Trek” than the idea that we’re still evolving as a species. The idea that “we’re not done cooking” is a deeply positive notion.
  6. Diversity Is A Pain but Better In the Long Run — The “Star Trek” show we need would be set in the 29th century, or later. The series would allow writers to explore the past in history classes, the future and be a “university”-type show. There’s something about the enculturation process of Star Fleet (and the Federation as a whole) that allows massive diverse species to come together and get stuff done that is amazing.
  7. Give Your Team a Break — During the battle with the Borg, Lieutenant Commander Shelby is driving the team hard to get new systems in place. Commander Riker steps in, shutting things down so the team can get some sleep. I’ve probably used this lesson in leadership more than any other over my years leading teams. Knowing when to call a break is a critical leadership skill.
  8. Systems Get Corrupted Over Time — The later seasons of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” were tough to watch. While they were still “Trek” (arguably some of the best stories of the franchise) they were certainly dark. It opened up my mind to a truth: all systems in an attempt to fight entropy become incestuous and insular over time. That leads to corruption. The counter to corruption is transparency. Doing stuff above board is best. Far too often systems start to close ranks and limit information and in that environment corruption thrives.
  9. Money as a Purpose for Living Sucks — I love the show “The Americans” and can’t help but think how easy it must have been for the Soviet/Chinese to recruit spies. When money is your primary motivator than you’re easy to manipulate. The Ferengi proved a ridiculous adversary because of this.
  10. Teamwork is all About Shared Purpose, Shared Consequence — Ships of any kind are amazing models of teamwork. There’s something about shared space and tools that illuminate what teamwork is all about. There’s nowhere to go on a ship: you’re part of a team and therefore you share the same goals and the same consequences.

Photo credit: JD Hancock via / CC BY

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