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Weekend post: leadership lesson from my favourite starship captain

As you may have gathered, I like Star Trek and Captain Picard is my favourite captain in that particular universe. I don’t agree with every aspect of his approach to leadership, but I like to think that we share a lot of values and every now and then I come across something he says or does that really resonates with me.

I was watching an old episode of The Next Generation recently (fellow nerds: this is the one in which android Data loses his confidence after someone beats him in a futuristic strategy game), in which Picard says to Data that it is possible not to commit any mistakes and still loose. I like the episode in general, but that particular bit of dialogue stuck in my head, because it’s related to things I have been thinking about recently.  Here’s why it resonates with me:

Much of the time following all the right steps and doing all the right things does result in the desired outcome. At least when things are reasonably within your sphere of influence. So, when something goes wrong or something bad happens in response to what we do, we seek to establish what we did wrong, where we made a mistake – same as Data does in the Star Trek episode. He thinks he must have made a mistake because he lost the game. It’s logical, and it’s comforting to have a sense of control, to believe that doing the correct thing will result in the correct outcome.

But, in many instances, that’s not the case. That’s not the case in the well-ordered universe of the Starship Enterprise and certainly not the case in the chaotic reality we call home.

The advice from Captain Picard cheered me. I thought it was a useful lesson to revisit because it reminded me that not everything that goes wrong is my responsibility or within my power to change. It made me reflect on the fact that even when things go wrong, often you can still get to your overall aim in other ways. And it made me think about how valuable it is to make mistakes, to learn how to cope with making them, learn from them and move on with your confidence still intact. 

In a high-performing environment, like Starfleet in this instance, it’s doubly important to be considerate about that part of your working culture. To be able to share when things go wrong, to make the best of them and to move on. And that a little kindness, a moment of listening or recognition can go a long way to helping oneself and others weather difficult moments like that. 

Back in the Star Trek story, a cheered Data returns to duty with the Captain’s advice fresh on his mind, but he also returns to face his opponent at the game table. This time, Data plays not to win, but for a stalemate, and he succeeds in not losing. He changes his winning conditions, what he wants to achieve to succeed. It’s a great ending to the episode and a good example to follow.