My husband is a Trekkie. Not one of the sort that dresses up and hitch-hikes around half the globe to attend Star Trek conventions, but he is an avid follower of the series and films. I myself, on the other hand, find Star Trek more of a nuisance than a diversion.
However, my Star-Trek loving husband managed to find the first Star Trek book that gained my interest: an analysis of Captain Picard’s leadership style. To be blunt, I have read better books about leadership before, but it was enjoyable and got me thinking about how it came that Picard, as a Frenchman, could become an American leadership Idol. Being invented by an American, how “French” is he, after all? Discussing this with my husband, he made me watch all the movies again, as a way of “background research.”
First of all, Picard’s background makes him the ideal American hero. Picard is a pioneer in space. His job is to go where no man has gone before. His encounters with new galaxies, planets, life forms good and bad, are essentially not very different to the experiences (real or in movies) of the wagon trains in the Old West.
Picard also embodies the American dream of a truly self-made man: He made his career without the help from family or an old boys’ network – actually, against the will and values of his father. Moreover, Picard has shown resilience when facing personal setbacks in his career. Single-mindedly pursuing a starfleet career from an early age, when being refused entrance to Starfleet academy upon application, he re-applied a year later, successfully. Looking at the latest reliable data that compare various cultures of what people want of a leader, Picard’s overall leadership style is not very “French,” at least not by the standards of the 21st century. Many of Picard’s most outstanding characteristics, such as showing high integrity and having a high-performance standard for himself as well as for his staff, are not the characteristics that make an outstanding leader in France – but they are the ones that make an outstanding leader in the US.
So, is Picard an American Hero in the disguise of a Frenchman? I would argue no. Picard is an excellent information gatherer and decision maker – but he makes decisions in a typically French way. He rarely makes real consensus decisions, but he gathers opinions from each team member before reaching an integrated conclusion, giving his team the feeling of being highly involved. He has many characteristics that make him more typical for the Old World, rather than the US (I don’t just refer to his accent and his preference for Earl Grey Tea).
Picard’s appeal partly consists of his refusal to be portrayed as a hero. Picard’s humility and modesty, almost shyness sometimes, make him more a member of a winning team than a solitary champion. After any threat that he and/or the Enterprise have successfully averted, he emphasizes that he is not an independent individual, but rather integrated into the democratic structure of starfleet that allows every voice to be heard, even junior ranks. Being rational, intellectual and objective, he embodies the traits that French leaders are praised for in the media. He is not so much an inspirational, visionary leader than a discreet operator who projects his strengths through silence. A little quirky – but that only makes him more lovable.
And how is it that Picard is so respected as a leader even now, 20 years after his “invention?” His leadership style fits with the problems we’re currently facing. From Picard, we can learn how to lead sustainably – building and maintaining a high-performing team, developing others yet retaining top talent; acknowledging people (and other species) in their entirety and caring for their emotional and physical well-being as much as their work output.
Admittedly, being such a leader is easier in an ideal organization like Starfleet, and in the reality of our lives we face more difficulties than Picard might, but he would argue that that should not discourage us from striving for continuous improvement.
Make it so.
Does your leadership style resemble that of someone else that you know or admire? Which of those similar attributes do you think have helped you to be successful?
~ Gina Eckert