5 Great Leadership Lessons from the Movie Star Trek Into Darkness

Photo by Miguel Angel Aranda (Viper)

Photo by Miguel Angel Aranda (Viper)

Movie Night

Back at the beginning of the summer, I had a rare evening to myself. My wife was out-of-town and my daughters were all having sleepovers at friend’s homes. The latest Star Trek film Into Darkness had just opened in theaters, and I been dying to see it. So, I jumped in the car and ran down to my local theater to grab a late night flick.

I’ve always been a big fan of the entire Star Trek franchise. When I was a kid, I started out watching the original TV series in syndication back in the 1970s. Later, I got hooked on the other various TV series and movies that have spun out from the original.

As a leader, I tend to look through my “leadership lens” at media such as this. The Star Trek franchise always has several great leadership nuggets to gather. Star Trek Into Darkness was no exception, and I walked away with five great leadership lesson takeaways from this awesome movie.

[Spoiler Alert: if you still haven’t had an opportunity to see this movie, I apologize in advance! It just came out on DVD, so get a hold of a copy and watch it!]

5 Great Leadership Lessons From Star Trek

  1. Hand Off The Baton, Well. In just a few short opening scenes, we see a rotation in leadership as a result of some poor choices by Captain Kirk. Admiral Pike is reassigned as captain of the Enterprise. Kirk is demoted to Commander of the Enterprise. Spock remains a commander, but is transferred over to another starship. As the movie progresses, the leadership roles are changed up even more. In real life, the leadership baton in many organizations is regularly passed around depending on timing and circumstances. I call this the “leadership dance.” If you’re in an organization where you have a rotation of leadership, then learn to lead well when it’s your opportunity to lead. When it’s your turn to hand off the baton to another leader, then attempt to hand it off with a smooth transition and be a good follower for the next leader.
  2. Act Like A Leader. In the movie, there’s a wonderful scene where Captain Kirk makes Sulu the “Acting Captain.” This was the first time Sulu has sat in the captain’s chair, and it seems to come quite naturally to him. Sulu is able to “pull off” the role because once he has been handed the reigns of leadership, he acts like a captain should act. Being a great leader has to do a lot with acting like a great leader. Sure, great leadership has much to do with knowledge and experience, but when the opportunity comes to lead, though, it’s mostly about leading people with confidence. In the actual leadership moment, are many leaders scared? Sure they are, but great leaders are able to lead and inspire their followers in spite of their fear.
  3. Embrace Humility. When Captain Kirk is demoted near the beginning of the movie, Admiral Pike tells Kirk straight up that one of his biggest problems as a leader is his lack of humility. As the movie progresses, we see Kirk learning his lesson as he humbly apologizes and submits to the great and powerful Kahn (the movie villan). Great leaders understand that humility doesn’t make them weak leaders. The best leaders actually embrace it.
  4. Go With Your Gut. There’s a really interesting scene halfway through the movie when Kirk and Spock are discussing a leadership decision by Captain Kirk that doesn’t seem logical. Kirk turns to Spock and says something like, “Spock, I know this doesn’t seem logical, but my gut is telling me to go this direction.” Leadership is a lot about gut instincts. Sure, we look at all the logical facts that surround the problem. In the end, though, we end up making a decision based on what our gut seems to be telling us to do.
  5. Model Self-Sacrifice. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” This is a recurring theme in Star Trek. Spock has discussed the concept with Kirk on many occasions. Captain Kirk demonstrates this truth through his willingness to sacrifice his life in order to save the Enterprise and its crew. The best leaders are not always out for themselves or their own reputation. They model self-sacrifice to advance the organization. And, the greatest demonstration of great leadership is the willingness to lay down one’s life for his followers.

Questions: Have you seen Star Trek Into Darkness, yet? If so, did you come away with some similar leadership lessons? Do you have additional leadership thoughts to add to my list?






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