Do you hire for expertise, or for someone to agree with you?
On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek The Original Series, And the Children Shall Lead (Season 3, Episode 5). He will examine the leadership approaches of Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy.
Arguably one of the worst episodes in all of Star Trek gives an incredible framework for acknowledging and processing feelings to move towards better outcomes and productivity. Jeff shares three techniques to enhance your emotional intelligence and demonstrate compassion and empathy:
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Welcome! Thanks for joining me today. Do you know everything? Are you the expert in everything your organization does? Even if you are, there are times when a situation is beyond you. In this episode I’m going to show the benefits in listening to the people you work with to get the best outcome possible for you and your organization, and I’m going to do that while we watch one of the most infamous episodes of Star Trek’s Original Series. The 5th episode of the 3rd season, And the Children Shall Lead.
Before we dive in, I want you to know that I never want to waste your time. I know it’s valuable and I appreciate that you choose to spend some of it with me. So, instead of doing my regular recap on this one, I’m going to do this one in the style Brent Allen and I do on my other podcast, Babylon 5 For the First Time. Because, here’s the thing. This is an absolutely terrible episode of Star Trek. I mean, it is really bad. But we’re going to have some fun with it!
The Federation is all about exploration. The Enterprise’s entire mission is that, right? Seek out new worlds and new civilizations. Well, they also want to learn as much as they can about what they find too. When they found the planet Triacus, that’s exactly what they did. They sent a team of scientists to live there so they could study it and do all the science things the Federation does.
Because they are living there, they have their kids with them. And what could go wrong with that?
As if the episode were reading my thoughts. We dive right in. The Enterprise has received a distress call from the planet “Responding to a distress call.” 0:09 and send a team down. That team is, as it always is, the most senior people on the ship, Kirk, Spock and McCoy. And they find a horrifying scene when they land. All the scientists, laying on the ground. Dead. McCoy examines and says it was a mass suicide. Now, you’d think the kids would be all broken up about this, right. Wrong. They are having a great time! “Ring around the rosies…” 2:29 Kirk has them beamed to the ship while he and Spock continue investigating.
Nurse Chapel is cool babysitter, getting the kids ice cream and playing with them. After Kirk comes in and lays down the rules, though, this fun game starts to take a turn. “busy, busy, busy.” 12:51 A series of weird things start happening across the ship. Sulu sets a course for Marcos 12 but believes he still has the ship in orbit. And everyone else on the bridge thinks so too. “He sees Triacus on the screen. He thinks he sees it.” 21:46
Well, turns out the kids that came onto the ship are in some cult kind of thing, only in this cult, the leader seems to be like a real angel or something. Kirk eventually calls it Gorgan, but the kids can do a chant that makes it materialize and then it tells them what to do. “Hail, hail, fire and snow.” 15:46 His pitch is pretty simple. He’s going to rule the galaxy while the kids get to play. If anyone gets in their way, the kids can induce paralyzing levels of anxiety in people that, ultimately, leads them to take their own lives.
The kids are on the bridge and the crew is in a bad way. Sulu sees swords flying at the ship in space, afraid that any deviation in course will kill everyone, Uhura is afraid she is dying a long, slow, painful death. For a little while, even Kirk is hit with this! His greatest anxiety, apparently is acting in community theatre and delivering nonsensical monologues about losing command of the ship. “I’m losing command.” 35:58 Well, if you have ever watched Star Trek before, you know this isn’t going to fly with Kirk. With the help of Spock, he sheds his anxiety and is on a mission to shut this dude down.
Spock digs up some archival records that Kirk thinks will help. The kids all get together and he plays home movies of them playing with their parents and having a good time. They begin to understand what has happened and start to process their grief. This pulls down whatever deception angel dude had going for them. As they stop believing in it, it fades away to nothingness. The day is saved! “It’s alright, we can help them now.” 49:06 The Enterprise heads off to Starbase 4 where they can make taking care of these kids somebody else’s problem.
Kind of odd that we get two, back-to-back episodes dealing with children processing grief. Heavy stuff, but not nearly the focus in the episode as it was in The Bonding.
This episode was absolute, total, hot garbage. It makes almost zero sense and is really difficult to get through. Which is too bad! Like, after going through that recap, I feel like, somewhere in all of this, was a decent concept for an episode that just never got fleshed out.
I’m going to share some of what went wrong in the production of this one, but, what I am really excited about, is getting to tell the story of some of the kids in this episode! A few of them go on to do some epic things in Star Trek and, at least one, transcends some fandoms!
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Is this a good time to talk a little about Star Trek’s third season? I think it might be. I won’t go into too much detail because a lot of this is well known, but I think it sets the stage for what went wrong in this one.
The show was going to get canceled at the end of its second season but a letter writing campaign saved it. But also, kind of put it on life support. They cut the per episode budget by about $10,000, some of the spirit and life blood of the series in Gene L Coon and DC Fontana left the production and Gene Roddenberry even stepped back. So the show was left with all of the actors, and almost none of the passion or creative juices that kept things moving.
Enter And the Children Shall Lead. Experienced writer Edward J Lasko took one of his earliest stabs at sci fi with this one, and probably started with a pretty good idea. Probably. But, like many episodes of the original series, it went through a bunch of rewrites and edits, and here we are. Add to that some super questionable casting, and we’re ready for the roller-coaster ride!
The evil angel dude, Gorgan, was played by Melvin Belli. If you don’t recognize the name, it’s likely because he did most of his performing in the courtroom. He was known as the King of Torts and infamously represented Jack Ruby in his trial for the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald. Little bit of trivia there, Belli represented him pro bono; free of charge.
Well, he got this role because his kid played one of the children and the producer thought it would be a good idea. It was not. “You have done well, my friends.” 16:06 Roddenberry saw some of the dailies of his performance and had the brilliant idea of using lighting effects and voice distortion to camouflage his inability to act.
But the kids, honestly, the kids did a great job. They all had speaking parts and did really well with them. The older kid, Tommy, was played by Craig Hundely, who later went by the name Craig Huxley. He played Peter Kirk, Captain Kirk’s nephew, in the first season episode, Operation – Annihilate. In a very cool sequence of events, he went on to study music and invented an instrument called the blaster beam. You know this instrument as the sound V’Ger makes in The Motion Picture. From there he performed music for Star 2 and 3 and was even credited for his work on Star Trek 4.
Another one of the kids went on to have a notable career as well. The little kid, Ray, was played by Brian Tochi who went on to plat Takashi in the Revenge of the Nerds movies!
But these poor kids. Some of their lines were just weird and the acting they had to do was rough. They kind of mind-controlled some of the crew and really agitated their deepest fears and anxieties. But, how did they do that, you ask? Well, I have absolutely no idea. They just somehow connect to some power that does this to people. But the way that had them do it. Oh, it was so bad and awkward. They did this weird, pounding motion with their fists. And, like, the crew could see them doing it! They’re just standing in the middle of the bridge, doing this really almost inappropriate pounding motion while stuff goes all haywire. It was bad, and they did it SO much!! I mean, if they pulled all the weird pounding motion scenes, the episode would be like 20 minutes shorter.
But this one really kind of swing for the fences as far as its concepts and ideas went. It wasn’t super clear because the editing of this one was a dumpster fire, but the impression I got was that this Gorgan dude was the embodiment of fear, anxiety and existential dread. “I’m getting a feeling of anxiety in this place.” 8:35 We got one scene of Kirk and Spock in the cave, in the beginning of the episode, talking about this and then never re-visited it. Would have been a cool complement to some of the super, super dark stuff they just nonchalantly tossed in. There’s the scene where Kirk wants more security, yes, redshirt security, to go to the surface to investigate. He and Spock beam them down but what they don’t know is that they are light years away from the planet at this point! That is, until they do know they aren’t orbiting the planet. “If we’re not orbiting Triacus, those men are dead.” 28:31 Wow.
But I have to say that one thing this episode did extremely well with was talking about the need to feel, experience and process our emotions. We talked about this, in some detail, the last episode, episode 72, of the Starfleet Leadership Academy where we watched TNG’s The Bonding.
They do not spend nearly the amount of time on this episode, but they sprinkle it in throughout. Fairly early in the episode, McCoy says, “As medical officer I must warn you. Their grief must be tapped.” 26:19 Kirk just wanted to get to it, right to the facts, but, waaaaay back in ’68, the doctor knew they needed to take time to let the children process what they were feeling. Hey, maybe someday the rest of us will get that. We are going to talk about this more in the command codes.
The episode ends with the kids having broken the spell. And they broke it by coming into contact with their emotions. Pretty cool. Dr. McCoy puts the point on this one as he comes onto the bridge, “They’re crying Jim. It’s good to see.” 48:56
The parallels to the episode where we watched TNG’s The Bonding stretch well beyond the theme of processing and experiencing grief. We also get a wonderful example of a leader being the culmination of the team’s expertise. In fact, what we see in this one, that I am going to help you apply in your day-to-day, is a leader allowing an expert to the be the expert and to let them guide your decision making.
I’m also going to talk about the importance of acknowledging the emotional charge behind people’s arguments and objections to situations and direction. And then I will share how to do that with the people you work with.
Quarks – Ads.
This episode paints a situation many of us have found ourselves in before, I’m sure. You know your stuff. You know it really well. Someone higher than you in the org chart either asks your opinion on a thing, that you know really well, or you see them trying to do a thing and you know it’s not going to end well for them. I think of Darrell watching Michael Scott try to drive the forklift in the office. Darrell, is good at his job and knows how to run operations, but this guy with a title comes in and starts thinking they know a thing and they end up making a huge mess for everyone.
Way back, when I worked in HR I ran into this. The CEO of the company wanted to add some provisions to our criminal history check processes that would basically screen out any person with a criminal history. And that, for the record, is not a good thing and does nothing to protect people or their data at all and only creates a barrier to people getting work.
She brought this proposal to me and asked my opinion on it. I’ve shared on here before, I have done extensive work in the background check industry; this is something I know a lot about. In fact, I have written and passed statewide legislation in the area. So, you would think, between my expertise and the fact she was asking my opinion that it would carry some wight, right? Wrong.
I remember saying to her that I didn’t think it was a good idea, and – and here’s where I went wrong – then saying, I’m not attorney but I think this might actually be against employment law. She actually slapped the table and reminded me that she was an attorney and that she needed to see a proposal on how to make this happen. She wanted me to draft the policy and procedures, and then identify what laws they intersected with so she could work with a lobbyist to change them if needed.
So why even ask my opinion?!? It’s been almost a decade since that happened and it still gets me mad. The wild disrespect that showed is almost unimaginable…except it did happen. And it does happen, to a lot of people, every day.
When we hire people, I have always assumed that we are hiring them for their experience and knowledge. How they can help us do our work and enrich our culture. Does that track? Have you assumed the same? Because actions like this make me think some people are just hired to do paperwork and agree with the boss. Why call the job Business Analyst when it’s really just Yes Man?
Fortunately, we get a clear and excellent example of the opposite of that in this episode. Within seconds of the show open, Kirk is out of his league. There’s mystery around a bunch of dead scientists, children running around and playing games, an overwhelming feeling of anxiety and barrels full of untapped grief and sadness. As achiever that he is, he wants to get to the bottom of this right away and the fastest way to do that is to question the children. Sharing that with Spock and McCoy, our good doctor tells him that would be a terrible idea; nearly catastrophic, until they have a chance to experience their grief. Kirk’s response is kind of beautiful. “I’ll be guided by that opinion, Doctor” 5:23 That is the best possible thing he can do!
And he does more than just be guided by it. Throughout the episode, as things get worse and worse, he is tempted to sit the kids down, shine a light in their face and rip into them. But he reminds himself of this, and McCoy does a few times as well. And because he listens to McCoy, he listens to his expert, his SME if you’re into jargon – that’s subject matter expert, b t dubs – he doesn’t make that dire mistake.
What’s great about all of this is that he so very much wanted to do what HE wanted to do! He was convinced that he was right and that if he could just question these kids he could get to the solution. And even with that, he listened and followed through. Kirk understood that he didn’t know everything; that no one person knows everything and that we have to rely on the knowledge of others to get the best outcome. Kirk gets it.
In our world, he’s the person that actually hired his team for their experience, expertise and knowledge, and then let them use it!! Imagine you have a team of 5 people. They have varying levels of education, but they have a lot of experience. Let’s say one has been doing the job in the industry for 10 years and one has 18 months; everyone else is in between. That’s a lot of knowledge and know-how on that team. And then you come in, never having done their job, or having been out of that work for a decade, and tell them what to do?? Or ask their opinion just to ignore it? Or just ignore them completely and do your own thing? I can’t even imagine it!! Not only are you disrespecting, even insulting each member of that team but you are not getting the best outcome you could. In fact, I’ll even go so far as to say that you aren’t even getting a good outcome. It’s a huge waste of resources to even hire these people. If you want paper-pushers and yes-men, say that’s what you want; hire and pay accordingly. Or, go all-in. Hire people for what they bring to the table and then let them bring it to the table! Not only will your outcomes improve, dramatically, but your culture and things like retention and engagement will all improve. Dramatically.
People really get fired up about stuff. Some of it makes some sense, some of it really doesn’t…like politics. I guess. Quick aside, that might alienate some people, but I get really tired of a lot of the political back-and-forth anymore. I mean, yes, at the federal level, the president and people in congress and all that, yeah, they do things that impact our day-to-day, for sure. But the way people get mad and passionate and, honestly, just freak out about the stuff that goes on there, you’d think every little thing they do impacts every microsecond of our lives. But that’s just not true. Now we have had some absolutely terrible presidents, and a few that were kind of, sort of, a little ok. But, from term-to term, regardless of how big the change between the people happens to be, for the average person, we’re all just a little more bitter and a little more broke.
But you know what really impacts your day-to-day? And your wallet? Your state and local governments. High sales tax, ridiculous gas taxes…that’s usually your state legislature. Stop signs in weird places, potholes littering the streets, no affordable housing, that’s your local and city government. But with a few exceptions, people aren’t losing their minds about the actions and decisions of those politicians. No, we’re worried about a thing a congressperson said, or a tweet the president sent when state and local governments are controlling billions of your dollars and making it harder for you to drive to see your grandkids.
Quick story. Back in 2020 I ran for local office. It was an experience I’m glad I have and I am thankful I lost the election. You see, the city I live in needed some real leadership. We had just recalled our mayor and were struggling to respond to the COVID requirements from the state. You’d think the press and residents would want to talk about those things, right? Well, you’d be wrong. The number one question I was asked, while running for this non-paid, non-partisan position, was who I was going to vote for president. Like, they might as well have asked me if I preferred soft or crunchy tacos for all the bearing that has on my ability to do the job.
But, I digress. See, I can’t even introduce the topic without emotion influencing me! And this happens in our family and work lives as well. We have things, our colleagues have things that are emotionally charged for them. It could be project someone is championing, it could be how your company is handling hybrid and remote work arrangements, it could be how the break schedule is figured out…it could be so many things. All of the things have objective, logical merit and are often worthy of discussion and debate, but when our emotional charge behind our positions is left unchecked, unacknowledged and unregulated, we often find ourselves in the workplace equivalent of a shouting match.
Those emotions are real, and if we don’t identify and acknowledge them, they will come into play. That’s a thing about emotions I have learned…the hard way in some cases. They will come out. 100% they will. The only question is whether or not you have the emotional intelligence; the self-awareness and self-regulation to be intentional about those emotions.
Spock calls us right out in this one. He says, “Humans do have the capacity to forget what is bad and believe what they choose.” 5:01 We often allow our emotions to cloud any objective or logical point, especially if they are contrary to what we are feeling. The challenge in this comes from ourselves, but we can help others with it as well. Yes, it is up to us to have the self-awareness to know when our emotions are driving us and then have the self-regulation to keep those from dominating our thought processes.
But we can help others with this as well. We can have empathy and demonstrate real compassion. When you are talking with someone, having a discussion, debate or even an argument, and you observe that the other person is focusing on their emotional response, you can help them. There three techniques that can be used, either on their own or together, that can help show empathy so the person’s emotions can be acknowledged, allowing you to focus on the matter at hand.
First, be an active listener. This means actually listening and not just planning your next response or statement. Ask open-ended questions and give time for the person to think and respond. Use mirroring, like I talk about in the 66th and 71st episodes of the Starfleet Leadership Academy. This is where you repeat back the key 3-5 words that a person said that sums up their statement.
Number 2, provide support, often with a physical response. This can be challenging because you have to be able to read what is happening. A supportive, physical response can range from a facial expression – closing your eyes and slowly shaking your head, for example, to a hand on a shoulder all the way to a hug. Word of advice – never hug someone without first asking if it’s ok. But for me, most of my interactions are online, Teams, Zoom or Jitsi Meet. I love this because it helps narrow the options on that range for me. It’s more a question of my facial expression or body language. Either way, when someone shares an emotion, or is behaving in a way that is guided by strong emotions…I’m thinking of someone yelling, for example. A shrug, or reeling back in your chair a little can have a big impact.
The third is to openly acknowledge their emotions. Just saying it and then letting them sit in it for a moment, maybe even sitting in it with them. ‘Joe, that sounds like it made you very angry.’ This lets Joe either correct you or it opens the door to having a compassionate discussion around the emotions making it a challenge to communicate. Or, an even more eloquent example.
As you acknowledge your emotions, as well as others, it kind of clears the table and allows for a real discussion on the matter at hand. A key point to know here. This doesn’t happen all at once. In fact, the example I’m going to share in a moment is great, but also unrealistic in that it immediately changes everything. I’ve had a number of these conversations where either the other person or I am stuck, unable to get past my emotions. I use my emotional intelligence and they listen with empathy and we end up in a good place. But one of the two of us isn’t ready to move on and get to the ’the thing.’ We may need to come back to it. And that is ok. Because the next time, we’ll both be ready to jump in and get to it.
So, the example is from the episode. Kirk has figured out that this Gorgan dude is scared and is using the children to shield him from reality and to do his dirty work. He tries to use this as a strategy to break down the kid’s loyalty to him. But it backfires. “He is not afraid of anything!” 42:22 Their emotional response bolsters Gorgan’s emotional approach which stops Kirk from making any progress. Now Kirk kind of skips through the empathy techniques and jumps right into rubbing everyone’s noses into reality, which has its place but should be a last resort option. But he brings the Gorgan’s fear into the open, it’s acknowledged by everyone and they lose faith in him leading to him awkwardly melting. I desperately hope you never make anyone melt, but, in acknowledging your emotions and the other person’s, you will be much better suited to dive into the task at hand.
So, remember, be an active listener, second, provide support, and three, openly acknowledge the emotions. One or more of these techniques can make a substantial impact on having more productive interactions.
I want to share a cool, YouTube podcast with you. It’s called Cloud Conversations. It may sound niche, but their approach is amazing. Hosts Peter, Azure, Femke, Cat, and Ru don’t only dive into Microsoft 365 and security conversations, but they also connect viewers to the people behind the technology. I appreciate the times they talk about mental health and the impacts their work has on it. Also, Peter is a HUGE Star Trek and Babylon 5 fan which puts anyone pretty high up there! Check them out on YouTube, Cloud Conversations and Twitter, @Cloud Cons 365
You can also find me on Twitter: @ SFLA podcast and you can follow me on most other social media, @jefftakin Jeff, t as in Triacus, a k i n.
Computer, what are we going to watch next time….
Wow! Honestly might be more than a coincidence I’m sharing my buddy, Peter’s podcast on Microsoft 365. See, I have an Excel spreadsheet that randomly generates the next episode I’ll watch. And, for the third episode in a row we are watching the 5th episode of a third season. Wow. This time, it’s the Voyager episode, False Profits. And I am excited for this one! This is part two, kind of, to a TNG episode and part two, kind of, to a Starfleet Leadership Academy episode! That means you have homework. Check out the 19th episode of this podcast where we watched TNG’s The Price to get the prologue to the one we’ll be talking about next time. False Profits introduces us to some Ferengi in the Delta Quadrant. Does that prompt some questions? It should! And we’ll answer them right here.
Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!