A few weeks ago was a major milestone for many of us: Star Trek aired its first episode in the United States on September 8, 1966. Those who know me — and many who don’t — know that I love Star Trek. It took on serious social issues, it brought the future into our homes, it challenged us to think, and it showed the results of courage and conviction (not to mention very cool inventions that intrigued the budding engineer in me).
Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to travel in space, has said that seeing Lieutenant Uhura onscreen inspired her to join NASA. Countless others acknowledge the impact that this show has had on our careers and, for that matter, our lives.
As I have matured (I like the way that sounds better than “gotten older”), I have found many good leadership lessons in Star Trek’s commander, Captain James T. Kirk. For the casual observer, the dialogue might have seemed over the top, but if you give a little thought to what is being said, you might realize there was a great deal of wisdom and sage advice given.
These are a few of my favorites from Kirk:
- Don’t believe in no-win scenarios;
- Sometimes rules are meant to be broken;
- Live with awe and wonder;
- Accept advice but make your own decisions;
- You are the captain of your own ship, so the decision needs to be yours;
- Take action;
- Overlook honest mistakes;
- Get your hands dirty;
- Get involved in your own life and explore the world.
These Kirk truisms have become part of my leadership style. Kirk led by example, he empowered his crew, he was decisive when the time came, and he forged new ground. All leaders need to be a Kirk at times. Whether it is through encouraging creativity and innovation, radically changing course when circumstances dictate, or assembling a team with diverse opinions and backgrounds, we can help lead our companies, our schools, and even our lives into places “where no one has gone before.”