Five Leadership Lessons From Star Trek

I grew up watching Captain Kirk regularly save the day. When I read Alex Knapp's article this morning about the Five Leadership Lessons From James T. Kirk, I couldn't help but smile.


According to Knapp, "Kirk's success was no fluke, either. His style of command demonstrates a keen understanding of leadership and how to maintain a team that succeeds time and time again, regardless of the dangers faced."It made me wonder if he'd be a good project leader.


Let's look at the five leadership traits and see if they apply within the project environment (The quotes are Kirk's):


1. Never Stop Learning: "You know the greatest danger facing us is ourselves, an irrational fear of the unknown. But there's no such thing as the unknown—only things temporarily hidden, temporarily understood." This regularly applies in a project environment. We're often taking calculated risks and making decisions based upon incomplete data. Sure, the fate of Starfleet isn't at risk and the world isn't in danger, but a drive to continually learn new things is critical to being successful in a project environment. Knapp sums it up pretty well, " matter what  your organization does, it helps to never stop learning. The more knowledge you have, the more creative you can be.


2. "Have Advisors With Different Worldviews: "One of the advantages of being a captain, Doctor, is being able to ask for advice without necessarily having to take it." I've worked with and observed many leaders over the years who surround themselves with only those who agree with them. It's not a stretch to see how that could lead a project leader down the primrose path to project disaster. Of course, someone needs to be the final arbiter of decisions—sometimes it's the project manager, other times it might be the project sponsor. Nonetheless, building a team where a spirit of collaboration thrives, doesn't mean everyone has to agree. I used to work with a colleague who looked at the world differently than I did. Although we wanted the same outcomes, we would often discuss different approaches to getting there. Depending upon whether or not I was helping him with his project or he was helping me with mine, the dialog helped make those projects more successful—even though we didn't always see things the same way.


3. Be Part Of The Away Team: "Risk is our business. That's what a starship is all about. That's why we're aboard her." Sometimes a project leader needs to step away from the comfort of the computer and into the fray. The most successful project leaders I've ever known aren't afraid to roll up their sleeves and help the team accomplish tasks (often they even end up doing the dirty jobs that help everyone else get done what they need to get done). I'm convinced the job of the project leader is do whatever he or she needs to do to ensure the successful completion of a project. That often means doing a lot more than writing reports and capturing data.


4. Play Poker, Not Chess: "Not chess, Mr. Spock. Poker. Do you know the game?" Life, and projects, are all about probabilities, not defined rules. Otherwise we wouldn't treat them like projects. Kirk was famous for bluffing his way out of many situations. Although that's not what I would recommend within a project environment, sometimes you have to play the odds because projects act more like poker than chess.


5. Blow Up The Enterprise: "'All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.' You could feel the wind at your back in those days. The sounds of the sea beneath you, and even if you take away the wind and the water, it's still the same. The ship is  yours. You can feel her. And the stars are still there, Bones." There's no question that Kirk loved his ship. Nevertheless, "...there came a point in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, where Captain Kirk made a decision that must have pained him enormously—in order to defeat the Klingons attacking him and save his crew," writes Knapp, "James Kirk destroyed the Enterprise." There are times when it makes more sense to kill a project than it does to complete the project (particularly if it isn't going to provide the value it was intended to provide or the need has gone). I hate doing that, but sometimes you do have to blow up the Enterprise.What do you think? Would Kirk be a good project leader?


Enjoyed the article?

Sign-up for our free newsletter to kick off your day with the latest technology insights, or share the article with your friends and contacts on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ using the icons below.

E-mail address

Rate this blog entry:

Bill has been a member of the technology and publishing industries for more than 25 years and brings extensive expertise to the roles of CEO, CIO, and Executive Editor. Most recently, Bill was COO and Co-Founder of and the parent company PSN Inc. Previously, Bill held the position of CTO of both Wiseads New Media and