Leadership lessons from Captain Kirk

by Miriam Bell17 Aug 2012

As is well-known to Star Trek fans worldwide, Captain James Kirk’s extremely successful stint as captain of the Starship Enterprise was due to his skillful leadership nous. But what, if anything, can other more Earth-bound leaders learn from his style of command?

Alex Knapp, a writer for business news website Forbes, believes Kirk’s style of command “demonstrated a keen understanding of leadership and how to maintain a team that succeeds time and time again, regardless of the dangers faced”. Here, for those in HR who are wondering, is a summarised version of the five key leadership lessons Knapp figured current-day leaders could learn from the legendary captain.

1) Never stop learning:

He may be popularly remembered as a smooth ladies man, but Kirk was on a constant search for knowledge. No matter what your organisation does, never stop learning, Knapp wrote. “The more knowledge you have, the more creative you can be. The more you’re able to do, the more solutions you have for problems at your disposal. Knowledge is your best key to overcoming whatever obstacles are in your way.”

2) Have advisors with different worldviews:

Kirk’s two closest advisors were the Vulcan Spock and Dr McCoy – two individuals with different worldviews not only from each other, but also from him, Knapp wrote. “Weak leaders surround themselves with yes men who are afraid to argue with them. This leads to an organisational culture which stifles creativity and innovation, leaves people afraid to speak up, and hinders the ability to solve problems or change course.” Organisations which allow for differences of opinion are better at developing innovation, better at solving problems, and better at avoiding groupthink, Knapp concluded.

3) Be part of the away team:

Whenever a challenging mission came up, Kirk – as a hands-on leader – was always willing to put himself in harm’s way by joining the Away Team, according to Knapp. “It can be easy to trap yourself in the corner office and forget what life on the front lines is like. When you lose that perspective, it’s much harder to understand what your team is doing, and the best way to solve a problem. What’s more, when you’re not involved with your team, it’s easy to lose their trust and have them gripe about how they don’t understand what the job is like.”

4) Play poker, not chess:

Knapp recounted one Trekkie cult-favourite episode in which Kirk rebuffs Spock's chess analogy and uses the principles of poker to bluff his way into establishing peaceful relations with the hostile "First Federation". Chess is a game of defined rules that can be mathematically determined while poker – much like life – is a game of probabilities, Knapp wrote. “Bluffs, tells, and bets are all a big part of real-life strategy. Playing that strategy with an eye to the psychology of your competitors can often lead to better outcomes than following the rigid rules of chess.”

5) Blow up the Enterprise:

Kirk's all-consuming love for the Enterprise is well-documented yet, on one occasion - to defeat the Klingons attacking him and to save his crew - he actually destroyed his ship, Knapp wrote. “Leaders are often driven by a passion but, no matter how fiery that passion burns, the reality is that times change. Different products are created. Different ways of doing things are developed. And there will come times when a passion isn’t viable anymore. When that happens, no matter how painful it is, it is necessary to change what isn’t working and embark on a new path.”


  • by Bill Jarrard 17/08/2012 3:11:47 PM

    Nice article. Here's another Star trek related leadership article I wrote back in 1993. Enjoy.. http://www.mindwerx.com/articles/leadership-lessons-24th-century