Creative Leadership from the 23rd century

Posted on May 11, 2009

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I enjoyed a weekend of watching Star Trek not once but twice. It’s been over 15 years since the valiant crew of the original Starship Enterprise had sought out new life forms and civilizations. It was worth the wait. It is sure to please both long time faithful Trekker as well as new ‘Trek-verts’. If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t worry there are no spoilers. But, I would recommend reading my earlier blog: Star Trek: Mission Impossible.

JJ Abrams vision was to retrace the origins of Kirk, Spock, and the crew as they not only discover their new home aboard the venerable Enterprise, but reclaim their place in the pop culture universe. As fun and exciting as the movie was, I really gleaned some valuable insights in regards to creative leadership. While the people, places, and scenarios were far from reality, I believe there were some very real lessons that could impact how we lead in the church.

As I watched each of the legendary characters come to life, I noticed something common among Kirk, Spock, and the rest- they were all foolish leaders. Not negatively, but in a way that made them daring, reckless, impulsive, and bold. Kirk was a desperate leader, he had nothing to lose and everything to gain. The particular exchange that stood out in my mind was when he was imploring Spock to pursue the enemy verses regrouping with the rest of the fleet. He said ‘we have to be unpredictable if we are going to survive’. The establishment will always play it safe. The majority always wants predictable and manageable results. In conservative minds, risk is bad and should be avoided. Whether you are trying to save a starship, a business, or a church, the creative leaders think differently.
You should be more concerned with movement rather than destination. You should think more about the edges of the bell curve instead of the middle mass. You may not be certain of what will work but you are certain of what won’t.

Lesson #1: Foolish leadership is thinking as the minority in order to save the majority.   

Foolish leadership won’t make you popular and it will probably get you ejected onto a frozen planet, but no one said that the creative process was easy. Original thinking comes at a high cost and can be a very lonely road. It’s a burden that only a few can bear. Like James T Kirk, you have to believe that you were saved for a special purpose. Living foolishly is the road to discovering it.

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Another aspect of creative leadership I noticed from the crew of the Enterprise was the benefit of conflict. This may sound counter intuitive, but healthy teams fight. They push each other. They challenge and test the validity of creative ideas. Leaders should be passionate, and passionate leaders get into conflicts- not over each other but over concepts, values, and processes. A team that does not regularly engage in ideological debates is not experiencing its full potential.
Lesson #2: When everyone is thinking alike, no one is thinking at all.

Don’t strive to remove conflict within your teams. Should we be whipping out phasers, fist fighting or giving the ‘Vulcan nerve pinch’ to opposing teammate? Of course not. However, learn the art of cultivating healthy conflict among your team. Allow for tension and challenge. Creative leaders like to push and be pushed. For a team, conflict is not a sign of weakness but great strength.

I know Star Trek is just a movie with carefully scripted circumstances. Real life is messy and problems can’t be resolved in 2 hours with a tub of popcorn. Movies are like parables; they are stories to glean wisdom from and to remind us of how to live lives. The adventures of Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise serve to inspire us to lead creatively and courageously even in the midst of pain and discomfort. I have a feeling that the crew that Jesus led fought, challenged, and acted foolishly quite a bit. For them it was about movement not destination. Let’s do the same and discover the final frontier as foolish leaders.

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