Leadership: The Next Generation

After reflecting on my Machiavelli post, it suddenly occurred to me that the perfect example of the differing leadership styles was encapsulated in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

(Oh yeah, we’re gonna put the geek in Geek Chick.)

In a two-part episode entitled “Chain of Command,” Captain Picard is reassigned to a secret mission and a new captain, Jellico, is appointed to the Enterprise. While the most excellent crew of the Enterprise does their best to adapt to Jellico, the gross difference in leadership styles results in abundant conflicts.

The leadership issue comes to a head in part 2, when Commander Riker and Jellico finally clash in a showdown that says it all. After relieving Riker of duty for insubordination, Jellico must swallow his pride and ask Riker to command an away team. Jellico tells Riker that he doesn’t like him. Riker replies, “I don’t like you either. You’re arrogant, and you don’t give a damn about the people around you. You’ve got everyone wound up so tight, there’s no joy in anything anymore.”

Machiavelli might reply, “That’s why they call it work,” right? Wrong. Time and again it’s been proven that happy employees outperform those ruled out of fear. Compliance is not gained by cracking the whip; it arises naturally from mutual respect.

Take the example of Picard’s leadership style. When crisis arises, what does Picard do? Does he bark out an order and demand obedience? No. Instead he requests suggestions from the crew. He listens to them all, weighs them equally, and selects one – which the crew then carries out. No one complains or resists if he does not choose his/her suggestion, because they know that he respects them.

Time and again, the Enterprise crew puts their lives on the line to save Picard. No one would have given a rat’s patootie about Jellico – other than perhaps to save him because he was a fellow human being and well, it would be the nice thing to do. Ruling by fear and an iron fist does not inspire your staff to go above and beyond; what you get instead are people clocking in and clocking out – doing the minimum required of them, because after all, why should they care if you don’t? That sounds an awful lot like the stereotype of the lazy government worker…….

The crew of the Enterprise are heroes not only because of their inherent qualities but because Picard knows how to bring those qualities out, how to inspire each person to reach his/her full potential. Likewise, Picard is a great captain not only because of his inherent decision-making ability but because of his effectiveness as a leader. He is Caesar to Jellico’s Machiavelli.

So Tivo some reruns, make some popcorn, and sit down for some leadership training. If you want a top-knotch crew working under you, follow Picard’s model and make it so.

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Teri Centner

Well said!

I think the modern Battlestar Glactica TV series has some good examples of varying leadership styles as well.

Jeffrey Levy

Great post. Of course, Picard also had some great writers behind him. 😉

I often think of another episode that says something about leadership. He and Dr. Crusher are stuck on a hostile planet and they have to cross a lot of territory to get to a pickup point (the transporter always has problems at bad times!). At one point they have to decide to go up or down along a ridge. Picard chooses and it turns out he chose badly. Crusher accuses him of acting like he knows what he’s doing all the time when he really doesn’t.

He responds that, no, it’s his job to decide. Sometimes he doesn’t have all the info, but he still has to decide. He takes into account everything he knows and can get from others, makes a decision, and then he deals with whatever comes next. But he doesn’t spend a lot of time anguishing over what ifs.

I’ve found that lesson hugely useful over the years.


It’s amazing where you can find examples of leadership, isn’t it? Teri, I agree — BG has examples of very different styles — why don’t you jot them down and share with us?