Captain Picard, Enterprise CEO

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.

Benedict Cumberbatch Lied To Me And Broke My Heart

Ever wondered how Frankenstein’s Creature learned to speak? He listened to an impoverished professor reading aloud and explaining one of the greatest books of the Enlightenment.

Those of you who recently saw the brilliant Frankenstein/Creature role swap done by Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller by the National Theater will remember that De Lacey used Paradise Lost to teach the Creature to read.

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Actually, in Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, the Creature learned from a book called The Ruins, or Meditation on the Revolutions of Empires, by Constantin François de Chassebœuf, comte de Volney.

I love audiobooks, and I realized that no one has ever done an audiobook of The Ruins! This rich and magical book, a source for art we love and even our own political freedoms, is in danger of being forgotten.

So over the last several months, I have been recording the audiobook of Volney’s greatest work for the first time ever in human history!

I hope you want to learn about the rise and fall of empires the same way that Frankenstein’s Creature did. I need your support to finish the recording, redo some of the first chapters, and get a sound engineer and editor to turn this from digital recordings into an audiobook! Back my project and spread the word, and together we will bring a lost treasure of the Enlightenment to audiobook and to the world!

HELP ME TELL BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH THAT FRANKENSTEIN IS JUST FINE THE WAY IT IS. AND SO IS HE.

Share this project at http://bit.ly/volney!

Give thanks for open source software developers

They make the world go round.

Open source developers and plugin devs are the people that make small technical businesses possible. They’re the folks who spend their time working hard to make obscure pieces of software that most of us will never see into something that is beautiful and usable. Without the major CMSes, many startups would have no way to get a company up and running rapidly.

Today, I will thank three of them by name.

Joost de Valk and his team make Clicky By Yoast, a spectacular plugin for WordPress that absolutely kills on analytics. He’s a major WordPress core developer as well; I am deeply grateful for his work. His analytics have contributed time and again to how I run my site. Thanks, Joost!

Jonathan Riddell is the lead dev for
Kubuntu, the fork of Ubuntu that uses KDE for a native desktop environment. I owe much of my daily happiness to this person; Kubuntu is easy to use, stupid simple to configure, and requires little to no knowledge of Linux for a n00b, while being configurable enough to entertain someone like me. All I’ve done is write a plasmoid or two; Jonathan, I seriously raise my glass to you. Thank you for your hard work and devotion to this project.

The Sarahs: Sarah Mei and Sarah Allen are the two women who started RailsBridge. OSS is notoriously short of women developers, and these women have not only pushed major Ruby work, they’ve also single [double?] handedly increased the number of women at OSS conferences. Thanks for being inspirational as well as technical, ladies.

Now
go eat some of that tasty Thanksgiving turkey!

Rest in Peace, Richard Thomas: Creator, Wizard, Good Man.

My friend Richard Thomas was a digital wizard. That accolade is frequently given to the undeserving, the merely brilliant, the commonly bright. There is a true paucity of men who deeply deserve that encomium, sadly bestowed only after his death…by me, and by the few who were his colleagues, partners, and friends.

I am intelligent enough to recognize genius when I see it. Richard was known to his family as Rick, to his digipals as Cyberlot, to his dev community as PHPJack, and to me as ‘the backend guy who can get it done’. On occasion, it seemed as if I was playing Stellan Skarsgaard to his Matt Damon; ordinary humans couldn’t see the difference between Richard and me. I saw that difference and was humbled by his instant grokking of systems I took days to comprehend.

I know I told Richard I appreciated him. More often, I was on an IM client at 4AM begging to know why I was getting
admin notifications that cronjobs weren’t running, or calling him up to find out why a DNS redirect wasn’t propagating fast enough. The amazing thing was that he actually knew the answers to my questions. In this world of specialization and finite resources, Richard was a man of infinite ingenuity.

I met Richard through an online ad I had placed for a backend developer. I needed someone who could make a site ‘just work’. Too few people love to problem-solve, to find out the wherefores, and to joyfully show their solutions to an audience who is not merely appreciative, but admiringly comprehending.  I had an idea to bring social networking promotion to small content creators overlooked by the behemoths of the Internet, and Richard not only saw its potential, he found ways to repurpose the open source software we loved to make it happen.

I’m saddened by that past tense in the last sentence. “We loved to make it happen.” It means that the collegiate relationship I enjoyed with my friend is no
more. He had a wife and child he adored, projects that he worked on, friends I never met, and a life I really didn’t know that much about. I do know that he and I found intellectual joy in solving problems together over the net at 3:30AM while high on caffeine and snickering over comic book superhero jokes.  Anyone who has ever lost a friend and collaborator knows that I feel that my sense of loss over my absent friend is nothing compared to the anguish felt by his family and closest friends. Yet, they also know that there is a piece of the Great Conversation (if I may be so bold as to place our small solutions to algorithms into that august company of concepts, ideals, and elegant proposals) that has forever passed into the concrete, the written and done, the forever unchangeable past.

Richard, your solutions to complicated problems, your willingness to help anyone learn, and your staggering aptitude at intuiting a path to simplicity are already, will be, and cannot but be missed.  Those who shared
the exhilarating experience of watching you think will be using you as a Platonic template for cogitation for the rest of their lives.

I’ll miss you, my friend.

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Richard Thomas
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Richard dealt with Crohn’s Disease, and as a result, did not have life insurance. To contribute to the fund for his wife Lisa and his ridiculously cute daughter Nicollette, hit the PayPal button below.

Niki and Lisa











*Donations are not tax-deductible.

Please be aware that I will now be hosting Richard Thomas’s site, http://phpjack.com/, at http://phpjack.thetarah.com/.