A Leadership Lesson from Captain Kirk
V. B. Velasco Jr.
© Copyright 2006
Commander Spock: A calculating machine,
logic personified. Doctor McCoy: Passionate and compassionate, often ruled
by his emotions. Then there's Captain Kirk: The quintessential leader, the
balancing force between the two extremes.
This tug-of-war between cold logic and
sheer emotion is one of the things that made the original Star Trek so
compelling. In virtually every episode, viewers got to see the tension
between Spock's computer-like view of the world and McCoy's heartfelt
passions… and through it all, you had Jim Kirk, mediating this conflict
and serving as the voice of balance in this precarious friendship.
And a precarious friendship it was. No
episode illustrates this better than The Tholian Web, in which
Captain Kirk went missing amidst the spatial anomaly known as Tholian
space. The crew had justifiably given him up for lost, and without Kirk,
we saw the friendship between Spock and McCoy disintegrated as their
natures repeatedly clashed. With the two officers at each other throats,
it took a heartfelt plea from Kirk himself – delivered through a
pre-recorded message – to remind them of how much they needed each other,
and how they needed to balance each other out.
This is one of the things that made Kirk
such an effective leader. He could act logically, but he also knew how the
human heart – or for that matter, the hearts of Klingons and Romulans –
operated. His decisions were never based on cold logic alone, nor were
they based solely on the heart's dictates. He knew that logic and emotion
could complement each other, rather than simply being at odds.
A perfect example of this was the gambit
that he played in The Corbomite Maneuver. In this episode, the
Starfleet crew faced a mysterious foe in a giant spherical ship—one that
had the Enterprise vastly outgunned. Kirk and company had been checkmated;
there was no apparent way out.
Or so it seemed. With a flash of
inspiration, Kirk changed the game from chess to poker. Playing a
carefully calculated bluff, he allowed his foe to overhear a transmission
where Kirk threatened to set off a fictional "corbomite device" that would
completely destroy any opponents and render that sector of space
inhabitable. Kirk knew that they were logically outgunned, but that an
emotional ploy—an appeal to fear—would do the trick.
The most effective leaders likewise combine
both rationality and emotional intelligence. A manager who operates
strictly on logic might emphasize the need to produce the best and most
economical products in the market; however, someone with a deep
understanding of human nature would understand that purchasing decisions
are often made on emotional grounds—rapport with the salesperson, for
example, or the aesthetic appearance of the product. Products that sell
typically incorporate both form and function, logical and emotional
A cold, calculating manager might recognize
the need to confront employees who under perform or misbehave. A manager
with high emotional rapport, on the other hand, would emphasize the need
to handle these situations with delicacy, so as to provide correction
without losing a valuable employee. Correction is often necessary, but an
emotionally aware leader can correct people in such a way that they don't
realize they've been corrected.
Logic and emotion. Mind and heart.
Rationality and compassion. The very best leaders combine these elements,
harmonizing them just as Kirk balanced the tension between Spock and
McCoy. It's a lesson that's worth learning.
About the Author
The author likes to write on a
wide variety of topics, ranging from the deeply philosophical to the
utterly mundane. A small selection of his musings can be found at his