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8 Leadership And Management Lessons Onboard The Starship Enterprise

If you are a Star Trek fan, you will know that it’s a franchise borne from Gene Roddenberry’s 1960s vision of an utopian society. It was based on a coherent set of  idealistic principles the background to which; were the emerging political tensions within American Society during a phase of economic expansion, the Cold war and the Civil Rights movement. It encapsulates a progressive and optimistic take on the future that had great faith in technology.

If you are no fan at all, this article will partly explain why it has such a large fan base and captured the imagination of many. Either way, read on to discover how the principles and tenets behind this episodic scifi franchise present some useful lessons in both leadership and management.

 # 1. “To Boldly Go where No One has Gone Before”

This historic motto best identifies the Star Trek franchise. It encapsulates in one phrase the essence of visionary leadership. It’s no coincidence that the Flagship vessel is named ‘Enterprise” after all, implying an element of  entrepreneurial risk-taking in the drive to expand our knowledge.

  • In business terms,  true leaders develop and expand their businesses by boldly taking educated risks and charting unmarked waters.
  • On a marketing level, its the need to seek out gaps and leave no stone unturned in the search for new opportunities.

Related: Leadership Advice For Groupon’s Beer-Guzzling CEO

# 2. “To Seek New Life and New Civilizations” 

This iconic sentence is uttered during the introductory segment of all Start Trek episodes as its guiding mission. The theme of constant exploration and learning reminds us it’s a worthy exercise to build in continuous learning and exploration into your business practice or corporate culture .

  • A state of open-mindedness and curiosity at all times can form the basis of an adaptable organization primed for constant improvement and innovation.
  • If your organization relies on strong R&D and sensitivity to the changing economic landscape, this should be your mission speak.

# 3. Be Part of the Away Team Sometimes

As the captain of your ship, it’s necessary to be part of your “Away Team” sometimes. In business terms I am talking about your front desk , your shop/factory Floor and also the interface with your customer on the odd sales call.

  • Getting out from behind the desk is an exercise all leaders and managers need to build into their calenders.
  • What better way to both observe the operational challenges first hand and the real time performance of their teams?
  • It is about knowing your business inside out, not losing touch with your core customer, your competencies and of course motivating your staff.

# 4. The Enterprise has a Self Destruct Button

All Trekkie Fans know the Enterprise is more than just a ship , its an idea. The captain is never afraid of pressing a self destruct button because:

  1.  it will be for the greater cause and
  2.  a new Enterprise will soon take its place.

As a leader, know this:

  • The core of your organization is the greater than the sum of its balance sheet, the building it inhabits or the number of people it is composed of .
  • It is an idea , a concept and an ideal that should be easily reinvented and strong enough to undergo a process of creative destruction if necessary, as you chart your way through a changing economic landscape.

Related: 5 Things The Best Boss I Ever Had Taught Me About Being A Great Manager And Leader

# 5. “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations”

This tenet of Vulcan philosophy supports the rationale for cross-functional teams apart from its focus on embracing diversity, a central idea in Star Trek ideology. Key lesson: Have advisers with different worldviews.

  • The diversity of the Enterprise’s crew contributed both varied experiences and versatility to their shared purpose. It demonstrated the usefulness of assembling a team of people with unique skill sets.
  • This focus on job-integrity also allowed for more informed decision-making. Every time there was a crisis the Captain would assemble his team in the war room and called for everyone’s views before deciding on the course of action.

This form of leadership values a 360 degree approach in decision-making and the innovative results that can emerge from such a varied crew.

# 6. The Prime Directive

In Star Trek the Prime Directive was a guiding principle that valued non- interference in another society’s development. Here I see a valuable lesson in Personnel Management, whereby HR personnel development models should leave some space for self discovery and an individual pace of learning. Sometimes Leaders should also take heed and remember to leave teams to do their jobs without too much uneccessary interference.

# 7. Red Alert and Battle Stations

Every time there was a crisis, the crew on board the Enterprise knew exactly where their battle stations were on ‘Red Alert’ status.

Does your organization have the same sense of preparedness and well defined job roles found on most military vessels? Have you a plan for worst case scenarios and a clear modus operandi or drill for your team to follow and snap into when you have to move up a gear operationally?

Related: Become A Better Manager: 10 Inspirational Management And Leadership Blogs

# 8. The “Kobayashi Maru Test”

There was a special test in the Starfleet Academy that simulated a no-win situation for aspiring commanders. The key lesson here was to teach future Leaders how to cope and develop the necessary strength of character and discipline required in a losing battle.  It forced future leaders to take full responsibility for their predicament against the odds. Have you had a  Kobayashi Maru Test in your own career and what would you do in a no win-situation?

In Short,  it never hurts to aspire to such an utopian set of ideals even if you know it’s going top be a long time before we get there. I  think the key lesson is to keep trying and the life lessons during our journeys into leadership are the most enjoyable part of anyone’s enterprise big or small.

I hope you had as much fun reading these Trekkie Lessons as I  have had writing about them. Any Star Trek fans  out there with more ideas to add? And for those of you who are not fans, did you find anything of value? Live Long and Prosper!

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Elish Bul-Godley helps brands hone their marketing communications and establish a stronger online presence via Community Management, Copywriting and Content Marketing. Currently the primary marketing consultant for the Snap Ireland Group. She works with various SMEs, the guerrilla festival Bloom Fringe and traders. Her previous experience includes stints with digital and marketing agencies such as ebow and Rothco, as well as providing training sessions in content, social selling and social media. Also Co-Founder and creator of press accredited blog-zine Eurovision Ireland. Elish has also been a B2B Events professional with Retail Management, Visual Merchandising, Project management experience. Born in Singapore, now in Dublin having negotiated the associated cultural changes between east and west. Loves the odd shimmy as a belly-dance teacher and binges on Sc-ifi in her spare time.

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  • Hi Elish, as a big Star Trek fan, I simply love this post! 

  • Elishbul

    I just couldn’t help it and its amazing now that it’s out the number of people I know who have declared themselves Trekkie fans – on a more Serious note I do believe there were some big ideas coming out of it and the on screen scenarios are actually handy training tools –  it has delivered some thought provoking episodes  in the tradition of utopian and dystopian Sci fi that was a big feature of the 60s. Witness the success of the Philip K Dick legacy in movieslike monority report et al..

  • Imelda

    Love it Niall ……. ” …… a dream that became a reality and spread throughout the stars” Kirk
    “Just before they went into warp, I beamed the whole kit and kaboodle into their engine room, where they’ll be no tribble at all” – Scotty explaining how he got rid of the Tribbles ….. Get way to get shot of trouble !! 🙂

  • yes a place where great Kitsche and big ideas come together!

  • Elish – Stellar post!  You hit on all cylinders.  In my work with the Attribute Index, a measure of how people think and make decisions, we have 3 main decision attributes – the Head (systematic), the Hand (practical), and the Heart (empathetic).  Can our Star Trek readers identify the crew characters who were all Head, all Hand, or all Heart?  Hint, there are on 3!  Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Thanks for the question Warren
    What Fun Let me try:
     Vulcan Mr. Spock, 7 of Nine or Commander Data for the Logical Head ( with a Fiery undertow)
    Captain Kirk, Janeway, Picard or Commander Riker for the Practical Hand
    Empathic Deanna Troi and Warlike Klingons Worf and Belanna Torress for all Heart

  • Good effort Better, you only get 3. 1 each for head, hand, and heart:).  And to make it easier, let’s only work on the first series – the original characters referenced in Elish’s post.

  • For someone who knows nothing about Star Trek, I admit I struggled with the post, but I adore analogies and metaphors 🙂 (I did watch the series with Cpt Picard for a while)
    “To Boldly Go where No One has Gone Before” – this reminds me of the late Steve Jobs, as his reality distortion allowed him to imagne adn believe the un-imaginable, and instill that belief in others. We all need a little bit of that to push ourselves Elish 🙂

  • Elishbul

    Hi Elaine thanks for the observation. I suspect there is an ever so slight gender bias in all things Trekkie and these terms are so much a part of the lexicon of the average fan, we take it for granted. A lot of the jargon also comes from the military as well – I suspect there’s a whole new blog in that idea! The key takeaway here is really the sense of inclusivity, curiosity, openness and courage that we aspire to and associate with visionary organisations and leaders regardless of their context.

  • Great post – never thought of Star Trek like this – must remember your ideas the next time I need to illustrate a business situation!! Well done

  • Hi Tom thanks for the supportive words ! It is a series with lots of scenarios played out on the bridge and in battle sequences that can be great presentation tools on the topics of strategy and HR management.

    Hi Warren- Kirk for practial hand- spock for the head and bones for the heart am I right
    I always thought it had a lot of archetypal characters in common with the Wizard of Oz. There were Shakespearean experts amongst its writing team in the next generationseries so lots of big ideas and litarary references throughout

  • Hi Elish – perfect. It continues to amaze me that this well-done series has influence in management and leadership situations.

  • John Twohig

    Thank you for your comment, guest.

  • disqus_SfanuQG0gQ

    That’st great motivational post. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

  • John Twohig

    Your welcome

  • Christina Giliberti

    Hi Elli, Powerful interview and words from Rob Marr. Big fan of the independent approach and working together. We shouldn’t depend on the gov to help us…we should depend on each other – like a family ;0 )

  • ElliStGeorgeGodfrey

    It is so inspiring when people take a problem and find a solution that works for many. The crowdfunding part is fabulous because it doesn’t focus exclusively on startups.

  • ElliStGeorgeGodfrey

    Rob Marr and his co-founder, Gareth Duffy have put something together that provides ownership and action. Two things small business owners need to feel like they have some control. Government has a role.That said, there is nothing like pulling together and providing solutions for one another.

  • ElliStGeorgeGodfrey

    Indeed! We know each other and can relate to each others’ joys and pains. I”m looking forward to seeing how smeople grows!

  • Absolutely love this concept and I believe it is something that many SMEs will look into during 2013, great interview @ElliStGeorgeGodfrey:disqus

  • ElliStGeorgeGodfrey

    I certainly hope so! Nobody ever said you had to go it alone. It’s great to see how Rob Marr and Gareth Duffy saw a need and provided an answer!

  • Elish Bul-Godley

    Thanks for that- a very handy summary that will make for good content in our marketing copy

  • susanpayton

    What a great post! Speaking from the other side of the ocean, I can confirm that it is one of the most friendly countries ever. Now I want to go back for another visit!

  • Pleased to help Elish 🙂

  • Thanks Susan – come back soon and we’ll have a Tweak Your Biz meet up 🙂

  • Thanks Niall. I thought it was a great initiative so worth writing about to spread the word

  • Great post! Just to add a grumpy voice of dissent, I will say I *hate* Paddy’s Day with an absolute passion!

  • Thanks Niall. Yes I think he’s great – could listen to his wisdom all the time. I’m reading his autobiography too – it’s brilliant

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