Leadership Lessons from the darkness

If you’ve been reading my articles for more than five minutes, you probably know I’m a movie nut.  And I absolutely love series movies that tell a story over time.

It all started with my mom’s crush on Captain Kirk.  She had a thing for William Shatner.  The one with the fake tan, eyeliner and a bevy of green girls.

She loved the original Star Trek TV show and my brother and I watched all the episodes.  When the movies came out, the family was expected to go – even when it became uncool to go to the movies with your parents.

As with most stories, it has only been in the last few years that I see the characters I grew up with as more than their fiction.  As flawed entities working together to overcome adversity.  As potential leaders that make good choices and bad, but always for something more than themselves.

I recently re-watched Star Trek Into the Darkness, and was reminded that, as leaders, we all face darkness.  We will all be tempted to be other than what we are.  Maybe the key characters on the bridge of the starship Enterprise can help guide the way.


Sulu – I’ve just never sat in the chair before.

When Kirk and Spock man a party to the surface of a hostile planet, Hikaru Sulu is informed he is acting Captain and has to use that position to intimidate a wanted criminal on the surface.

Sulu hesitates, aware of what taking the Captain’s chair implies.  Though initially fearful, he steps into the role with gusto, impressing the skeptical Bones, who says “Remind me never to piss you off.”

We are not always ready for the situations we find ourselves in.  Leaders work past their fear – their inner doubt and darkness – to do the job that needs doing.  And if that means a little bluffing until we have our feet under us, that’s okay too.


Chekov – Sorry Captain.

Pavel Chekov is just a teenager when he starts working on the Enterprise.  When Scotty  turns in his resignation, Kirk assigns him a red shirt and puts him in charge of engineering.  This is a huge responsibility, but Chekov steps up to the Captain’s expectations of him.

Not long after taking the job, the ship is sabotaged.  Though Chekov could not have anticipated the damage, he takes immediate responsibility and commits to fixing the ship, regardless of fault.

Great leaders own up to the actions of those before them, the leaders above them, and the work of their team.  Regardless of who did what and the bad situation they may find themselves in, leaders step up to make things right.


Bones – Enough with the metaphors, all right? That’s an order.

Leonard McCoy, or Bones, is the king of metaphors.  For every bad situation the crew finds itself in, he has a metaphor to highlight why they are taking the wrong path.

Imagery and storytelling are very powerful leadership tools.  Being able to project an outcome to the team, one they can connect to, can be a driving force to success.

However, when it is overdone, its power is diminished.  Equally, when the imagery focuses on the negative as Bones tends to do, it can feed the team’s fears and make them immobile.

Leaders need to be aware of how to use their tools in a positive way that benefits the team, even when they have internal doubts.


Spock – Because you are my friend.

With his half-human, half-vulcan makeup, Spock often finds it difficult to connect with others.  He doesn’t lie and insists on following the logical path in any situation, often alienating those around him.

In his mind, he should be allowed to die, rather than violate an order.  Kirk, on the other hand, feels his responsibility to his crew overrides any orders, creating a natural conflict between the two.

When he loses Kirk, Spock finally understands that sometimes, we need to do what is right, regardless of whether or not it is logical.  We need to be willing to trust our hearts more than our minds and open ourselves to the fact that not every situation is black or white.

Great leaders create real connections with people.  While they may have procedures and metrics, those are secondary to the individuals doing the job and affecting outcomes.  Leaders know their employees are people first, and care for them accordingly.


Kirk – I have no idea what I am supposed to do.  I only know what I can do.

James Tiberius Kirk uses charisma, innate skill and a lot of seat-of-his-pants decision making to drive his success.  As can happen in any organization, raw talent + opportunity can equal early leaders.  Kirk’s early wins reinforce the notion he is ready for all the responsibility he has.  Until the darkness threatens.

When Kirk finds himself in an unknown position, he has doubts of his ability to make a good decision.  However, he moves forward the best he can, doing whatever possible to solve problems and save his crew.  It may not be the right or logical thing, but he takes whatever action he can.

Great leaders know there is not going to be a manual for everything we are asked to do in life.  Instead, we make the best decisions we can and keep moving forward, pulling on whatever resources we have available to us.  Even if it’s just our gut guiding the way.


When we find ourselves lost in the darkness, sometimes our internal light is the only thing that can guide us.  Hopefully, we occasionally find a helping hand.  Good luck this week as you navigate your own path.
photo credit: saikofish via photopin cc