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.

Kathryn Janeway, Startup CEO

Reposted from an edited version at WeWork Magazine.

A couple of weeks ago, WeWork Magazine interviewed me for a Spotlight article about me. One of my answers about which Star Trek captain I thought my management style most closely reflected betrayed how seriously I take Star Trek. So, they’ve asked me to expand on my thoughts about how Star Trek captains can be compared to tech CEOs. In this three-part essay, I’ll be looking at Kathryn Janeway, Jean-Luc Picard, and Benjamin Sisko as examples of CEOs at different stages of their careers: at a startup, in a mature company, and during transitional periods.

I was eight years old on the evening of September 26th, 1987. My dad whispered “Shh. Don’t tell your mom I’m starting you on science fiction,” and tiptoed with me down to the basement of our old farmhouse where the little 13” TV sat in his proto-mancave. He flipped the switch, put a little more aluminum foil on the antenna, and I saw the blue letters on the screen as the Alexander Courage & Jerry Goldsmith music played for the first time ever at the beginning of Encounter At Farpoint. Dad choked up a little, remembering when he was nine years old and watched The Man Trap with his father. We bond with these stories. We tell and retell them. We vary the details, but the core myth remains the same: a diverse crew explores the boundaries of space and other civilizations while learning more about what it means to be human.

The most important part about Star Trek captains isn’t which one you admire most, or which one you feel most closely reflects your management style. The most important Star Trek captain is the one who inspires you to be a better leader, and though I think I have the most in common personality-wise with Picard, the truth is that Kathryn Janeway is the closest ideal to what a startup CEO should be. She has no shame or pride, no false sense of ego, and a single, unwavering, certainly monomaniacal goal: to get her crew home. In the course of seven years on the way back from the Delta Quadrant, she uses everything she has and more to succeed.

Janeway is put in impossible situations with untenable choices, and yet she creates humor, freedom, and a shared sense of purpose. She’s by far the wittiest and funniest of the captains, and very free with a joke or a tension-relieving pun. I like her sense of humor a lot, but there’s one thing she does which I try very hard to emulate. She understands that her promise to her crew to get them home is the only thing she’ll ever be judged on, and she sacrifices her personal comfort, her friendships, and her privilege time and time again to make it happen. Barring morally despicable options, there’s nothing she won’t do to achieve her goals. Over seven years, she adopts the roles of a mechanic, a prostitute, a governess, a merchant, a general, a killer, a janitor, an exterminator, a referee, a teacher, a programmer, a scientist, a pool shark, and many, many more. When the time comes for her to play a low-status person to aid in her goal of getting her crew home, she doesn’t hesitate.

Janeway strikes a careful balance among the tight and dramatic relationships that form in the crew when there’s a limited amount of choice for who to socialize with. The greatest CEOs I know worry about their people, not their status. Janeway invests in her people and builds them up instead of tearing them down to maintain an artificial hierarchy, and in return, they achieve more than they could imagine in a crew that will support them.

I love that Janeway has two heroes that I can think of in Voyager; one is Amelia Earhart, and the other is her own ancestor, engineer and architect Shannon O’Donnell Janeway. Perhaps this is where I feel closest to Janeway; she too has mentors and heroes that inspire her that she’s imbued with personality and hope, that she uses to get her through tough decisions, and that she believes in. She’s never met them (well, she meets Amelia Earhart, but this is science-fiction, people), but she knows what they’ll say when she needs their advice. She uses their accomplishments to hold up a mirror to her motivations. There’s not much of a difference between the inspiration of an ancestor you’ve never met except through stories, and a fictional hero who dares us to achieve more. When we need heroes that are more than human, we create our own legends to give us strength, and Star Trek is a rich source of hope and mentorship to me.

Captain Janeway, you’re my hero.

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!

One woman’s continuing mission to make you love Star Trek, too.

I recently attended the Seattle Symphony’s ‘Scifi at the Pops‘, a collection of great science fiction scores and themes. I bought a ticket even before I knew that Jonathan Frakes would be directing. I was thrilled to find out, of course; I had the hugest crush on Commander Riker when I was thirteen, just like every self-respecting girl. Oh. Wait. Weren’t all the other girls in love with someone called Johnny Dupe, or something? (Don’t ask about the life-size Captain Picard cardboard cutout at my 15th birthday party…wearing a floral hat)

I listened with pleasure to the Superman theme, to some music from Avatar, and heard some great stuff from Battlestar Galactica. All excellent shows.

Then, after a long day of dealing with the unfairness of life, I heard Jonathan Frakes conduct the original
Alexander Courage theme to Star Trek, and I burst into tears.

Life isn’t fair, and we know it. People die of misunderstandings based around the color of their skin, the garments they’re wearing, the message they’re sending. In the name of business, we fail to promote hard working people because their skin color or gender or sexual preferences “might not contribute to team fit and cohesiveness.” Those born to privilege misuse it while those born to poverty rage against the machine that grinds them.

But there is still hope, as Arwen likes to breathe elfinly at us. In a country with the most volunteers in the world by far (56% of us volunteer regularly, and we volunteer 3.5 hours a week on average), we have a nation of people who are generally aware of social discord and inequality, and work genuinely to improve ourselves and our neighbors. Change will come from here, and it will come from our example, both good and bad.

nSimply seeing a world on screen where a person’s competence isn’t judged by the number of probosces and ocular implants they may possess–much less anything so irrelevant as skin color and secondary sexual characteristics–gives us hope. In that symphony audience of bluehairs, I may have been the only person who grew up in the world that Star Trek improved upon by its existence.

Not only does Star Trek itself inspire us, but the actors who participated in it serve as fine examples of people and artists. Frakes is an excellent musician as anyone who’s heard him play the trombone knows. Wil Wheaton‘s volunteer work for Child’s Play and mentorship to the gamer community make him a genuinely decent human as well as a terribly funny writer. John DeLancie is an innovative opera director, and I don’t need to tell you about Sir Patrick Stewart’s and Robert Picardo’s acting chops both on- and off-stage. George
Takei may be the best example of all; his perpetually humorous messages of tolerance to the fan community and his leadership in social media communications for LGBT teens add to all our lives. I am so Takei for him. Plus, that brokering of Star Peace is one of the most priceless moments in sci-fi fandom history.

**** Trek, **** Wars, Battle**** Galactica, ****blazers, **** Cops, ****gate. It doesn’t matter which Star show you love the best; they all show us something about our future. I choose to believe that some serve as a warning, and some serve as a goal. I want to live in a world where universal ethics about the value and quality of human life trump individual morality while still respecting it. I want to be evaluated on my performance, not my appearance. Finally, I want to live in a world where great achievement is rewarded not with security, but with
even greater responsibility.  Sign me up for the world where we live long and prosper.

PS: It’s The Next Generation, in case you were wondering. Argue if you want, but I will stomp on you.

(Interlude between Delve Posts) Tarah and LEONARD NIMOY at ECCC.

That is all I have to say.



If any of you are interested, the Edward shirt I’m wearing is available over at Hijinks Ensue. Joel Watson writes a BRILLIANT web comic, and I ordered this shirt at the height of the Team Edward frenzy late last year.

Ok, so no-joke-there-I-was, like FOUR INCHES away from THE MAN! He actually said HI! To ME! A lowly geekling!

I warned you all that I would squee a little bit. Personally, I don’t think Shatner would be nearly as intimidating. Regardless, I really do just adore Mr. Nimoy. He’s a class act, and his books are clear,
entertaining, and witty.

Truthfully, though–if there is any one actor in the entire Trekverse that I really need to meet, it’s Robert Picardo. Honestly, the Doctor is the greatest of all Star Trek characters, and I will GO TO THE MAT in the comments to defend my choice!