Today we are examining episodes 1 and 2 of the premier of Discovery - The Vulcan Hello AND Battle at the Binary Stars. We see two leaders rise to the forefront through this amazing opening conflict that could not be more different. Different in style, different in motivation, and different in impact. Two incredible, and polar opposite, examples of leadership. Have you ever asked yourself what kind of leader you want to be? Well, now is the time as we compare and contrast Shenzou Captain Phillipa Georgiou and Klingon leader T’Kuvma.
We’re first introduced to T’Kuvma. He appears to be powerful and has quite the following. As the camera pans around during his opening speech, a large group of very attentive Klingons is hanging on his every word. We can assume that this Klingon is leading from a place of fear-mongering and charisma. He’s well-spoken, looks good, and people want to listen to him. He’s also conveying a unifying message that their race is under attack by others that are “not as they are.” While this can be a frighteningly effective leadership style to gain followers, it is not sustainable long term and tends to create a dangerous cult of personality. He has a vision. He is effective in delivering that vision. But what happens when he’s no longer a part of the equation?
Next, we meet Georgiou as she conducts a nearly flawless one-on-one with her subordinate, Michael Burnham. First, it’s a walking meeting. From a wellness standpoint, this is a great way to hold meetings instead of just sitting in a chair across from each other, but it also helps break down interpersonal barriers. No more inherent power dynamic of two chairs and a desk. You’re just two people going for a walk. Second, Georgiou keeps the focus on her crew member by discussing her career development, her skills that have prepared her for change, all while leaning into the trust that has developed over their seven years of working together. In this short scene, Georgiou establishes herself as a leader that is laser focused on her staff and crew. She knows them well and knows how to motivate them. It is also clear that she has tremendous experience and readily shares it.
Very different tones as we meet these leaders, wouldn’t you say? Let's continue to evaluate them. What makes each of them good, bad, or somewhere in between? What can we learn from each of them? And who might we want to model our own leadership after?
A great place to start is always the foundation. What are the core values or driving forces for these leaders? For T’Kuvma, it appears to be a commitment to his race and culture as he rallies around the cry, “Remain Klingon!” This is the single doctrine under which he lives. When gathered with the heads of the Klingon Houses, he immediately begins chastising them for what he sees to be their selfish concerns. He speaks of unity, duty, and honor while the others speak of their personal priorities.
Georgiou, on the other hand, demonstrates a clear alignment with Federation goals and values. She is all Starfleet, all the time. She deeply understands the values and mission of Starfleet. She has aligned her actions and her behaviors with them. From her Ready Room, we see many classic-looking books, what appear to be plaques or awards, and a telescope. Pursuit of knowledge, pride in accomplishment, and exploration all seem to be foundational values for her.
I once had a mentor that encouraged me to develop my personal mission statement. To define why I am on this planet. After much thought and intense discussion with them, I determined my personal mission statement is, “To improve a lot of others through my interactions with them.” Sounds good, right? The next part is even better! Now that I know my mission, I can examine organizations’ missions to determine if I want to work with them or not. If an organization’s mission doesn’t align with my personal mission, there is no way I’ll be happy or feel accomplished working with them. It’s also likely they wouldn’t get the best of me. It’s a lose-lose situation.
Have you ever thought about writing a personal mission statement? Take some time today to start the process! Start with brainstorming. Seek out inspiration from people you admire. Ask for advice or feedback from those you trust. Clearly defining your personal mission statement will bring clarity to your life’s direction and decision-making process!
So, what other observations can we make about T’Kuvma and Georgiou in terms of leadership? When looking for a new Torchbearer, T’Kuvma shows excellent leadership by promoting an individual, not because of their unearned privilege, but for their dedication, loyalty, and adherence to the mission and vision. As a charismatic leader, he knows how to command an audience. He uses slogans that vilify the enemy and make his cause sound superior. Again, he is inspiring people to follow him. This absolutely is an example of a leadership style. Possibly effective in the short term, but it is not sustainable. His story, his leadership style, and the results he is achieving are a not too subtle comparison to another, very charismatic leader that used fear-mongering and slogans to unite a people against their perceived enemies back in the 1930s and ’40s…
My read on T’Kuvma is that he sees himself as a visionary, a prophet. He seeks to unite his people around being Klingon, or racial supremacy, and their belief in Kahless. And his leadership style works until it doesn't. Human history is littered with leaders like this. They were all successful in leading and inspiring their followers, but never for long. Leading from fear simply is not a long-term plan. With all of his vision and all of his passion, his leadership approach reduced it all down to a simple opportunity to go to war with the Federation. This is not enough to develop a team, motivate people long-term, or truly accomplish a goal. And it’s definitely not enough to outlast him! His charisma kept his message before people. But as soon as he died, the message died with him.
How about Georgiou? We noted that she knows her people well. In one instance, Georgiou shows her awareness of the tension between two crew members and uses gentle humor to acknowledge their work and diffuse the situation. So smart! She works hard to make her team feel welcome and valued, creating a healthy culture where partnership and service can flourish. She develops trusting relationships with those she works with. She actively capitalizes on their strengths and differences to help develop a better and more thought-out final decision (one of the many benefits of diversity). She has difficult conversations with her crew to help them grow and move on to the next career step. And yet, when her leadership is under pressure, she puts the safety of her ship and Starfleet above personal attachment. This is not an easy thing to do when you value relationships as much as Georgiou does! So much of her excellent leadership decisions come from the obvious work she had done before the moment of tension or crisis.
It’s a shame she’s gone! This is a captain I would want to serve under. Imagine having a manager or boss like her! Focused on your good, knows how to get the best out of you, and is transparently dedicated to and personifies the values and mission of the organization you both work for. So what do you think? Do you want to lead more like T’Kuvma or Georgiou? While the answer might seem obvious, the road there is not. Becoming a leader like Georgiou requires intentionality, a guiding vision (did you start that personal mission statement yet?), and dedication.
What did you think of the start to Discovery? Am I alone in thinking Georgiou is the ideal Starfleet captain? And what about T’Kuvma? I’d love to talk about your impressions of him. I saw him as a Hitler while Chris Obi, the actor that portrayed him, saw him more as a Moses. What did YOU think? And I’d love to hear your personal mission statement! You can catch me across social media @jefftakin. Hit me up!
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