I enjoyed analyzing Captain Janeway’s style of leadership as compared to a startup CEO in the first part of a three-part essay on Star Trek captains and leadership. In the second part, I get to tackle my favorite captain of them all: Jean-Luc Picard. I’ll be talking about how Picard’s style of management is ideal for a mature company. CEOs for mature companies are often selected from the outside rather than being promoted from within—but how did Picard get selected to become the captain of the Federation’s most prestigious ship? And how can you learn from his deliberate choices? I’ll first look at how Picard built his expertise and was trusted enough to take over the Enterprise, and then I’ll delve deeper into the relationships he creates and curates in his team.
As the captain of the USS Enterprise, the Federation’s flagship, Picard is one of the most prestigious, highly respected, and well-known leaders in Star Fleet. Many CEOs of mature companies have multiple accomplishments to their name, giving them well-roundedness, common ground with many people, and sources of inspiration, and Picard clearly has a well-rounded and investigative personality. He uses his musicianship, his interest in Vulcan philosophy, and his love of Shakespeare to relate to aliens and create understanding, as well as giving him a life outside of and an escape from the burdens of leadership. He’s smart to do so. Leaders need to maintain an active mental life, and I certainly find that if I start dropping my outside pursuits like writing, playing music, and creating art, that I lose perspective on the choices I make inside my company as well.
Many CEOs of mature tech companies are business and finance specialists with proven records as operations officers. Picard captained the Stargazer for 22 years to gain experience and demonstrate his capacity to lead. The USS Enterprise is not a gig for a child or a first-timer, no matter what some poorly researched reboot might claim. James Kirk captained an as-yet unnamed ship before taking command of the Enterprise. The next captain of a ship named Enterprise was Captain Rachel Garrett, CO of the USS Enterprise-C, the only time that a first-time captain has ever commanded the Enterprise—and a time when the Enterprise was not the flagship of the Federation or in open war. The point here is that demonstrated expertise as a skilled operator matters a great deal when taking over a prominent leadership role in a mature enterprise (yeah, I just did that pun).
Let’s get down to the specifics of how Picard manages his people. Although he has a skilled and competent XO, Commander William T Riker, Picard isn’t worried that Riker will attempt to either eclipse him or to substitute his own judgment for that of Picard’s. The fact that Picard is fearless about having competent, brilliant, ambitious subordinates makes him a spectacular manager and captain. Without concern for his own position or whether Riker would or could push him out, Picard constantly and perpetually supports Riker’s decision process regarding his career. This is much more important than most people realize, and for good reason: the fruits of Picard’s trust in Riker lead to Riker learning to trust in ambitious, competent subordinates. Who could forget the clash of wills between Lieutenant Commander Elizabeth Shelby, the excellent officer detailed to the Enterprise to assist with defensive strategy planning during the Borg invasion? Riker initially disliked Shelby’s tactless ambition and found reasons to criticize her. When Riker was promoted to captain during Picard’s abduction by the Borg, he immediately promoted Shelby to First Officer. He realized why Picard had trusted him in the face of his own ambition, and learned to trust his own decisions about who to promote and support. Picard sets an excellent example of how to treat people, and it’s reflected in the fact that his subordinates take that skill with them into new positions and new responsibilities.
Picard has deliberately curated his own reputation as a trustworthy and competent leader, and uses it to back up his decisions and create conditions of trust between himself and his team. Picard may be modest, but he never actually insisted that they name the Picard Maneuver something else. Picard understood that the creation of himself as a legend as well as a human was a vital part of building the emotional component of support for his leadership. I don’t know what the equivalent of social media will be in the 24th century, but Picard is clearly well known outside Star Fleet and throughout the Federation as a diplomat and negotiator. He doesn’t just accomplish the impossible, he clearly lets others talk about his achievements. This strategy only works because he has the skills to back up even the most outrageous expectations laid upon him.
This means he can use his power and prestige for the benefit of his crew. He never visibly uses it to bolster his comfort level beyond the minimum needed to maintain his image as the captain. On several occasions he’s deliberately chosen not to use his authority internally to benefit someone he cares about. When Lieutenant Commander Nella Darren took over Stellar Cartography aboard the Enterprise in 2369, Picard and she rapidly grew close. He could easily have used his power to advance Darren’s career or give her a cushy transfer. He chose instead to end his relationship with her due to the very valid fears of his crew that he would prefer one of his direct subordinates over others. He set an excellent, if personally painful, example for how to conduct your personal affairs as a leader, and his team respected him deeply for it.
Jean-Luc Picard exhibits sober judgment, trust in his team, support for their ambition, and he rarely interrupts his staff when they’re speaking. He’s a spectacular role model for the CEO of a mature company in the way he manages his personal life, his professional relationships, and the direction of his career. He’s an example I try to live up to every day.