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Leadership Lessons from the 24th Century

Bill Jarrard's picture

Leadership Lessons From The 24th Century


by Bill Jarrard (1993)

One of the most effective methods of self-development is to observe those who are already expert at what they do, and then model their behaviour.  But where are the great leaders for us to model ourselves after?  Sometimes they are in the future! 

Any student of leadership must be fascinated and impressed with the leadership style of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, of the Starship Enterprise, in the television series "Star Trek - The Next Generation".  Here is character that a friend of mine, who himself serves as an officer on ships that travel the Arctic Ocean, described as the "perfect captain". 

During workshops or discussions on leadership I sometimes refer to what I call the Picard style of leadership, and I believe that anyone interested in understanding good leadership can gain new insights by observing this remarkable figure.  Good leaders are hard to find and it’s very difficult to observe good leadership, so it’s interesting and instructive to see so much current thinking on leadership in action, albeit in a fictional show.

Let's have a closer look at what makes Picard a good leader, by starting with the man himself. 

Even in his youth, Picard was absolutely clear on what he was going to do with his life, and where his destiny lay.  Despite his natural ability and great interest in many things, he set his specific goals early, and did whatever was required to meet them.  As he matured as a Starfleet officer, he was bold and adventurous, always looking for the most dangerous and exciting assignments, for he knew that this was how to get recognised. 

On occasion, he didn't hesitate to "stretch" the rules a little, if it meant accomplishing a worthwhile task, or helping a friend.  He was, and is, loyal to his friends and always held his goals and the greater good in alignment.

Picard is a classic introvert, keeping his private life to himself, although, as an accomplished diplomat, he is able to extrovert himself in the line of duty.  He is highly intuitive, with a clarity of vision that far exceeds most people.  Highly logical, he is an extraordinary thinker, and he is able to draw conclusions or make decisions quickly and with excellent results. 

In Myers-Briggs terms, Picard is a typical INTJ, but has developed great ability to act, and lead, in whatever personality type is appropriate to the occasion.

As a leader, he has great credibility with those who serve with him, because he is an expert in at least one area, and is highly capable in many.  This ability to hold credibility is something we are now beginning to see as a prerequisite to good leadership.  In Picard's case, he was a master helmsman who saved his first ship, the Stargazer, by taking command when the ship's captain was killed, and then performing what became known as the 'Picard Maneuver' to save the ship and its crew, when they were attacked by an unknown enemy in a remote part of the Galaxy. 

Of course, Picard would later claim the maneuver was "nothing more than any competent helmsman would have done", although his peers, and history, would disagree.  Picard's ability comes not just from academic study, but from first hand experience and a personal approach that is bold, yet considered. 

As a captain, he understands that, in many cases, there is no gain if there is no risk.  Experience has shown him that risk is necessary, but must be considered carefully against the anticipated result.  So he takes risks, and allows others to take risks, but is never reckless with the lives of his crew, or his ship. 

He is a voracious learner, constantly studying and improving personally.  While he is Captain of the Enterprise at all times, he balances his enormous workload with activities that improve him physically (he is an accomplished swordsman), and mentally (amongst other things he is a renowned archaeologist), although in both these areas he does not see himself as anything more than an amateur. 

While you may argue that it is easy being a dynamic, near perfect, leader in a fictional world, the pattern is the same for today's great leaders, many of whom balance a number of different activities in a schedule that is unbelievable to us mere mortals. 

Picard is a highly skilled communicator, able to work miracles at the diplomatic level, talking with beings from many different worlds and cultures, while retaining the ability to relate to those below him in rank.  For those of you who think the character is too good, you'll be relieved to know he is completely baffled by, and uncomfortable with, those creatures that most easily cut through our defences: children.  Above all, Picard is a listener.  He is able to receive ideas, and criticism, from those with whom he works, and he values their input.  This is one of his greatest skills, and fits well with his approach to making decisions.

Picard knows that if he were to only rely on his own skills, experience, and knowledge, he would make more mistakes than he does.  To overcome this he has surrounded himself with the most capable crew in Starfleet.  His bridge crew consists of:

Will Riker, the First Officer, who is a classic extrovert and adventurer, boldly leading all 'away missions'.  He is a charmer who loves people (with a strong bias towards the opposite sex), and is trusted by everyone.

Commander Data, the Second Officer, is an extraordinary android that is more human than most men.  He is highly logical, possesses the knowledge of all mankind, and can compute faster than any known computer.

Deanna Troi, Ship's Counselor, is a Betazoid empath, able to sense what others are thinking and feeling.  She is in touch with the emotions, fears, and thoughts of other beings.

Geordie LaForge, the blind Chief Engineer, who sees the world in a totally different way through his special visor.  He sees things and people as no one else sees them, as pure energy rather than as matter.

Lieutenant Worf, Chief of Security, is the Klingon warrior brought up on Earth after being rescued by a Starfleet officer, when his own parents were killed in a Romulan surprise attack.  As a warrior, his every instinct is to fight, and he is highly emotional, but he is driven by his honour and would die before forsaking his honour, his captain, or his friends.

Beverly Crusher, Ship's Doctor, healer of people, all people.

Ensign Wesley Crusher, Helmsman, and son of the good doctor.  Wes is the boy genius, a sort of technological Mozart, as he was described by the mysterious Traveler.  With an intuitive nature and extraordinary ability in space navigation, he is able to see things that his grown-up colleagues can't.

Picard uses his crew to great advantage to ensure that his decision making is as sound as possible.  Using their natural styles, he examines each new challenge from each of their perspective's, much like today's leaders might use Edward DeBono's six thinking hats.  Faced with an important decision, Picard will seek views from each of his crew. 

  • Data is the white hat, and can be expected to have all the facts and information readily available. 
  • Troi and Worf are the red hats, sharing feelings and emotions, either their own, as in the case of Worf, or other's, as with Troi. 
  • Riker is often the black hat, ensuring that the risks are identified, while LaForge will act as the yellow hat, raising all the advantages and benefits. 
  • Wesley is the green hat, full of alternatives, while Picard himself is the blue hat, regularly challenging the way he and the others are thinking. 

Of course, every crew member has an ability to see things from different angles, and each of their views is often quite different.  Picard will take in all their views and all their suggestions, and make a decision.  For the most part there is no need for, or expectation of, consensus, a ship is not a democratic environment.  But everyone can speak out freely, everyone will be listened to, and everyone knows how decisions will be made. 

I believe the Star Trek writers have neatly and cleverly woven DeBono's thinking techniques into a working model for today's managers.

In summary, Picard's abilities as a great leader are based on the following:

  • He is a visionary, who is able to share his vision and develop a vision community.
  • He sets clear goals, for himself and for others.
  • He commands credibility, based on his own skills and experience.
  • He receives great loyalty, because he gives great loyalty.
  • He can engage the appropriate personality style for any given situation.
  • He is prepared to take risks, but is never reckless.
  • He is constantly learning and improving himself.
  • He loves his work, yet lives a full and balanced life.
  • He listens to others and makes himself clear to them.
  • He knows how to make decisions, and accepts responsibility for them.  At the same time, he is always prepared to acknowledge, and change, a decision if he is proven wrong.

Whether or not you're a science fiction fan, or a 'Trekker' like myself, take some time out to watch a few episodes, and keep your eye on Picard. 

Live Long and Prosper!

For more on Picard see what Wikipedia has to say:




Creation date: 
7 Mar 2011

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