Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Captain Kirk of Star Trek fame is a good role model

For those of you who are Star Trek fans you already know the main characters of the Star Trek series but for those of you who are not let me elaborate (you “Trekies” can skip to the next paragraph).  Star Trek is about the adventures of the star ship U.S.S. Enterprise and their diverse crew who are involved in space exploration.  These future space travelers zoom through the Galaxy at light speed seeking out new life and exploring new worlds. There are three main characters on the Enterprise: Captain Kirk, Commander Spock, and Dr. “Bones” McCoy.  If you watch the series you quickly realize how different these three good friends and crew mates are.  Spock is a Vulcan, born of an alien race that believes in pure logic without emotion.  Dr. McCoy (AKA Bones) is the star ship’s medical doctor and is a study in pure human emotion.  Their leader, Captain Kirk is a man who seems to blend the two other personalities.  He is fairly logical but is often willing to put logic aside when his “gut” tells him to do otherwise. 

These three very good friends face a lot of scary moments together during their many exploratory missions.  When faced with a dilemma where a crucial decision needs to be made Kirk will ask for advice and inevitably Spock gives advice based on logic and “Bones” gives advice based on emotion. As expected Spock and “Bones” often disagree on a solution and there are often many arguments between the two, many of these  involve “Bones” emotionally hurling various insults at Spock (good naturedly of course).  After listening to his crewmates Kirk sometimes chooses the logical path and sometimes the emotional path but more often, he takes a middle ground because he sees the value of utilizing both logic and emotion in his decision-making.  As Operational Excellence leaders we frequently venture into uncharted territory - new projects where we often face hostile “alien” team members.  I have seen all kinds of facilitators from the emotional to the purely logical and everything in between however I think the most effective OE leaders have characteristics similar to Captain Kirk.  They keep their cool even under the most extreme pressure and while they never lose sight of the end game and the need for logic they understand the emotional side of human nature and don’t ignore its power. During the course of a project they are willing to take a few detours in order to satisfy the emotional needs of those hostile “aliens” who tend to mellow as their emotional fervor subsides. At the same time, good OE leaders don’t let emotions get out of hand; they deftly keep the team away from any emotional “death spiral”.  Every team has its characters, the Spocks (usually my engineer or research friends), the “Bones” characters (usually my nursing or marketing friends), and all the in-betweens.  A good leader (and Captain Kirk is one of the best) must carefully utilize the strength of each personality and talent without allowing one to overwhelm the other.  OE leaders need to be an orchestra conductor. One instrument, by itself can make great music, but when a conductor harnesses the power and brings balance to the many instruments of an orchestra the positive effects of the music are multiplied 10 fold.   

For Captain Kirk failure is never an option, the lives of his crew often depend on his decision-making. The crew of the Enterprise is a diverse bunch with many faults but directed by Captain Kirk, they work together and become a powerful and unbeatable force.  At the start of the Star Trek shows Kirk is heard describing their mission:  Space... the Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.  Doesn’t that sound a lot like your job as an Operational Excellence Leader? 

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