Achieve Your Goals by Helping Others Achieve Theirs. Just Like Captain Lorca
On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek Discovery, Lethe (Season 1, Episode 6). He will examine the leadership approaches of Captain Lorca and Michael Burnham.
Captain Lorca is a master manipulator. We see him offer things to people to advance his own agenda. Jeff will adapt this self-serving approach so that you can use it in a way that benefits everyone. It's SELFISH vs SELFLESS.
Jeff also breaks down some incredible coaching that Michael Burnham offers to Tilly. All that while wearing some of the coolest Star Trek shirts ever!
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Thank you for joining me today. Have you ever thought you could successfully manipulate someone, for a long time, to take advantage of them and get what you want? I’ll show you how Lorca attempts this with his crew but I will show you how to get what you want, by giving others what they want. It’s Selfish vs Selfless. I’ll also show you Burnham’s coaching techniques that you can use right away as we watch episode 6 of the first season Discovery, LethE. I mean, Leth. Is it Leeth? Lethe.
Sarek, Michael Burnham’s stepfather and Vulcan ambassador to the Federation, is on his way for a diplomatic liaison with some Klingon Houses. He and a pilot are headed to a neutral planet for the meeting. A funny line, that I am totally going to use at some point, “May I inquire as to the nature of our diplomatic mission? I will be diplomatic and not answer.”
On Discovery, it’s PT time! Burnham and Tilly are jogging through the halls. And I’d be a total liar if I told you I didn’t immediately go and buy one of the shirts they’re wearing! This is the introduction of the epic DISCO shirts!
Burnham is coaching Tilly on how to apply to the Command Training Program and to become a Captain. “Today your goal is 6.5 seconds. Then the Enterprise and then command. Cadet to Captain. Just like that.” I get that she’s trying to motivate her here, and it’s great, but I also feel like she’s missing quite a few critical steps. Well, either way, it lights a fire under Tilly and she gets moving faster.
Then we see Ash Tyler and Lorca in close combat on a Klingon ship. Looks like they’re fighting their way out. Lorca’s asking about his history “what about your family?” as we see this was all a simulation; just a training exercise. They compare scores, “24 kills, you? 22 sir.” Lorca checks the scores and Tyler actually got 36. He starts to explain but Lorca says, “Don't apologize for excellence. I want my chief of security to shoot better than I do,” which makes total sense to me.
In fact, let’s talk about this real quick. I think it might be natural to want to protect, and even build up the ego of people that higher up the org chart than you are. ‘What a great idea.’ ‘Oh, I wish I would have thought of something like that.’ But, Lorca really nails it here. Be great! Own your successes! But, more than that, as a leader, you want people to be better than you. If you are better than they are, why don’t you just do their job?? Imagine this was Voyager. Janeway came up as a science officer; she’s not a tactical superstar – I say that now; just wait till Macrocosm – so she should absolutely hope a security officer can shoot better than she does! Lorca hits that here. Apparently Ash Tyler is going to be the new chief of security, replacing Landry who was killed by Ripper, and he wants his security chief to be better at combat than he is. Fantastic!
We rejoin Sarek and his pilot. The pilot injects something into his arm. He’s a terrorist! Part of a group of logic extremists that believe Vulcans shouldn’t interact with other species and should leave the Federation. The thing he injected himself with turned him into a walking bomb. He blows himself up just as Sarek puts up a partial shield. The ship goes down, and we go to the opening credits.
In the mess hall, Tilly and Burnham sit with Ash Tyler with “two appetizing and nutrient rich burritos.” Tilly introduces Michael as her mentor. She is very awkward meeting him, “crazy kids,” and suddenly drops to the deck! “My mind to your mind.” A super weird, 70’s disco-opera space epic scene follows, something right out of the Black Hole really. In a weird, dated feeling way it conveys that we are now in Sarek’s mind. It looks like she’s on Vulcan and sees Sarek and Amanda, her step-parents talking about her. Apparently her application to the Vulcan Expeditionary Group was denied. In the vision, the memory, she’s not taking it well, “I do not have the required abilities. I am not good enough.” Vision Sarek suddenly sees her, screams that she cannot be in his mind and hou-do-ken’s her out of the vision.
She comes to in sickbay. We get a Vulcan magic explanation of what happened. Vulcans have a thing called a katra; kind of like their soul or like a download of their personality. We saw it in Star Trek 3…it’s how Spock, oh, spoiler alert, it’s how Spock comes back to life. Long story short, a Vulcan can implant their katra in someone else for a transplant later on. Apparently, when she was a child, the logic extremists blew up her school. She died in the blast, but Sarek was able to use his katra to jump start her; to bring her back to life.
All of that, and the connection they share, leads her to believe that Sarek is in danger. Between her personal connection with him and his value as an ambassador and diplomat, she begs Lorca to search for him. He agrees.
In his ready room, Lorca is contacted by a Vulcan admiral. He explains that two Klingon Houses want to help the Federation in the war against General Kol. He also orders Lorca to not pursue a rescue of Sarek, but in doing so, gives up his general location. Shockingly, Lorca blows him off and cuts off the communication.
They arrive at the nebula where Sarek should be. It is massive. There’s no reasonable way to search it, especially given the radiation that limits sensors. Burnham has a wild idea. She and Lorca meet with Stamets to walk through it.
Stamets is a very different person. He’s gone from a rigid, no nonsense person to someone walking into Woodstock. “Groovy. Sure, why not.” He agrees that her plan will work. They’re going to create like an amplifier or an augment to her mind so she can go into the nebula in a shuttle and scan the nebula with her mind. Lorca sends Tilly and Ash Tyler with her. We get a glimpse into Lorca’s motivations that will make so much more sense as we approach the end of the first season. “Bring her back in one piece. I’m talking about her.” But for now, we just know that he highly values Burnham and her expertise. Oh, but just wait!
Ok, while they’re prepping for launch, Saru informs Lorca that Admiral Cornwell has arrived on Discovery. This is unexpected. He looks concerned and has her meet him in his Ready Room. She rips right into him, “What in the hell are you doing?” She explains that Discovery is critical to the Federation’s strategy in the war and that he has to fall in line; he has to follow orders. She questions his tactics and approach so far and he fires back with, “Rules are for admirals and back offices.” That’s really in line with what we talked about in the recent episode where we watched DS9’s Inquisition. Lorca is clearly an ends justify the means guy. She expresses concern for him, as a friend. So they break open a bottle of whiskey and “start talking like friends.”
On the shuttle, Burnham is really nervous. Tilly asks, “Where’s the badass woman that’s always pushing me to be the best I can be?” They talk through what Burnham experienced in Sarek’s mind. She believes that in his dying moments, he’s dwelling on her failure. She attaches the augment and reaches out. She’s back in his mind, on Vulcan.
She’s prepared for him this time. When he notices her in his mind he attempts to push her out again, but she fight back. She begs him to help, to give a signal so they can find him. Her vitals are going wild so Tilly pulls her out!
Lorca and Cornwell are reminiscing. She expresses concern for him again. “I worry about you, Gabriel.” She thinks he’s lied his way through the assessments after the incident on Buran, when he lost his ship; she goes on to say that just a week ago he was being tortured. He successfully distracts her, though, and they stop talking about it.
Burnham is pleading with Tilly and Tyler to let her reach out again. Tyler is very insightful here and says when you’re close to death, “you think about who you love and what wish you’d done differently.” He thinks that Sarek is dwelling in his failure and not Burnham’s. They send her back in.
Turns out Vulcans are super racist, or species-ist. Sarek has been somewhat ostracized because he married a human, had a half-vulcan child and fostered Michael. The Vulcan Expeditionary Group expects that his son, Spock, will also apply to the program. They will only accept one of them. They don’t want more than one non-Vulcan in it. So, he chose Spock. But, as we know, that decision backfired. “Spock went against my wishes and joined Starfleet.” He admits that he failed her and “for that, I have so much shame.” He crumbles to ground, bleeding. She pleads with him again to send a signal. He agrees. We see him, on the Vulcan shuttle. He scrapes and claws his way to a transponder and hits the button. They’ve got him!
We join Cornwell and Lorca, after an intimate moment. Lorca is asleep and Cornwell examines some awful scarring on his bare back. She goes to touch it…he grabs a phaser from under his pillow climbs on top of her and grabs her throat! She freaks out. “The truth is you’re not the man I used to know.” He gets upset, scared upset and says, “you’re right, I lied about everything and I need help.” She doesn’t believe him, though, and storms out of his quarters.
Dr Culber is treating Sarek. He’ll survive but is in no condition to broker the talks. Lorca suggests that Admiral Cornwell goes in his place. They agree. Burnham thanks Lorca for allowing her to rescue Sarek. He says he did it because she’s a part of his team. He offers her an official spot on Discovery, Science Specialist, serving on the bridge. She accepts and then says something that I find confusing, “I’m grateful to serve under a captain like you.” This is the 6th episode of Discovery, the 4th with Lorca. Other than this, there is very little that would lead me to believe Burnham should be grateful. We’ll dive into this in the Command Codes, but I believe this is the result of masterful manipulation on his part.
Boarding a shuttle to the Talks, Cornwell tells Lorca that when she returns they’ll discuss a strategy for him to step down, with dignity, and get the help that he needs. He thanks her and wishes her well with the negotiations.
Burnham is headed to the mess hall and runs into Tilly. Well, Tilly runs into her; she’s trying to improve her run time. Michael pulls a great move here, “I gave you bad advice,” and tells Tilly she can follow her own way to the Captain’s chair. In the mess hall, she sits with Tyler. They really click this time.
The talks are about to start. Lorca’s well wishes don’t do much. “Greetings from the United Federation of Planets.” It’s a trap!! They kill her entourage and capture her. General Kol calls up the Klingons that setup the negotiations and congratulates them. He says their Houses will be rewarded with cloaking technology.
Saru updated Lorca who refuses to do anything about it. Says they need to wait for orders. Saru is understandably confused “in the past, we have engaged in alternative thinking on these matters.” Lorca acknowledges that but says they need to await orders. The episode ends showing Lorca packing heat – he has his phaser on him even in his own quarters.
Discovery is a new kind of Star Trek. It tells stories in different ways and focuses on different people. Having watched all of the first season, I know this episode is littered with hints that later become validations, but watching it here, on its own, I kinda didn’t like it very much. I feel like it answers a question I never asked: what would it look like if they filmed the Matrix back in the late 70’s and called it Star Trek?
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Let’s start with the Vulcan magic. All the way back to the earliest days of Star Trek, they played pretty loose with what Vulcans could and couldn’t do. They have no emotions, but actually they have wild emotions and just suppress them; they can mind meld but also are sometimes telepathic; they have extra eyelids but don’t always seem to use them when they need to; they have a katra that can transfer their being but it can also jump-start someone like defibrillators.
I think this episode lost me at this point. Not only does Burnham, a human, have part of a katra in her, but it acts like a one-person connection to the Force. And then the way they visualized it…so corny. And not in the often forgivable way TOS was corny. Like, decisions were made, money was spent to intentionally make their mind connection look the way it did.
Once they were connected, though, and she was on Vulcan, in his mind; that looked great. Awesome lighting, really good use of focus. But still…just a little too far-fetched for me.
Ash Tyler is really impressive in this episode. He’s cozying up to Lorca and connecting with people like Tilly and Burnham in real and meaningful ways. He’s a great listener and is really fitting in. His story is one of my favorites in this season, and this was a great way to introduce him as a member of the crew.
A lot of people got really mad that Michael Burnham is Spock’s step-sister. Like, really mad. Unhealthy kind of mad. This piled on top of the anger around Sybock from Star Trek 5 being Spock’s half-brother. Now, I have a whole theory around Star Trek 5 that I’ll get to when I watch that, but that theory really explains the whole Sybock thing. But, as far as people getting mad about Burnham, they used the fact that Spock never mentioned her before as fuel for their fire. That kind of gets explained later on in the series, but in this episode, we learn Burnham is older than Spock, or at least further along in her academic studies, and, again, we’ll learn more about that later.
All of that to say, I really liked the way they backed Sarek into a corner. Vulcan’s racism is well documented in Enterprise and is hinted at in other series. It makes complete sense that Vulcan leadership would look on Sarek the way they do here. This was a complex and really well done piece here. Every parent wants the best for the children, and Sarek was forced to make an impossible choice based on the systemic racism of his society. Hindsight tells us he might have made the wrong decision, but, at the time, he chose based on what he knew. It is totally understandable that he’d be reflecting on that in his dying moments! I mean, we know he considers his upbringing of Spock to be a failure – or, at least, we will know that as we progress through the franchise – well, no, we heard some of that in Unification when Picard spoke with a dying Sarek. But in this decision, he not only failed Burnham, but set up his future failure towards Spock. Really well written and performed sequence here.
The Lorca and Cornwell stuff is so good! And it’ll be even better, in hindsight, as we get further into this season. I’ve said it on earlier Discovery episodes, but a rewatch of season 1 is a total different experience. So many little hints are dropped.
I also really appreciated that after Saru’s abysmal performance in the last episode, he really just played a bit part in this one. I mean, go back and listen to the episode on Choose Your Pain. Even though he gave us the ultimate performance review – which you can get for free by joining the Starfleet Leadership Academy mailing list – he was just terrible. He was mean, aggressive and just a terrible leader. In the continuum of Discovery, I appreciate this little break from him because, don’t get me wrong here, he’s a great character! And this episode is a great palate cleanser between his last go and his next one.
All in all, you have to…oh, wait! There was one other thing I wanted to bring up here. So, there are all these Matrix-style fights between Burnham and Sarek in his mind as he’s trying to kick her out. This is more of the Vulcan martial art we’ve talked about before on Discovery and Enterprise called Suus Mahna. But, what I thought was kind of cool is that James Frain, the actor that portrays Sarek, has zero martial arts experience where Sonequa Martin-Green is pretty well known for her on screen fighting. When you watch this episode, pay close attention to the cuts and camera angles. This is a masterclass in making someone look like a competent fighter screen. I don’t know, I just love little stuff like that.
So, like I was saying, you can’t really skip episodes in Discovery, that’s just not how it works, but so far, this one is my least favorite so far. I will do a total spoiler here and tell you that the next episode is, in my opinion, maybe the best episode of Discovery to this point. But, more on that later.
This is our 4th episode with Lorca, and he has shown, very consistently, that he will do whatever it takes to accomplish his goal. Just a quick heads up that that is not cool. We see him actively manipulate people in this episode to get his way as well as manipulating situations to get rid of obstacles.
But what I’m looking forward to diving into today, is how Burnham works to motivate and coach Tilly. She does some small, but incredible things here that you can put into practice right away.
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Let’s do a quick look-back at Lorca and Burnham’s relationship. She ends up on Discovery and he compels her to help with the spore drive technology. Then he shows her how amazing it is and appeals to her passions and interests, bringing her onto the ship full-time. Then she sees the extreme measures he will take as he bullies Stamets into using the tardigrade, Ripper, in the spore drive <<GO TO BUTCHERS KNIFE FOR CLIP>>. And then we have the interactions in this episode. Her experience with Lorca is similar to ours. So when she says she is “grateful to serve under a captain like” him, my mind was kind of blown. Until I noticed the pattern.
Lorca is amazing at identifying what motivates a person; being able to tell what matters to them. We saw this when he showed her the spore drive and enrolled her in the idea of what they could accomplish with it. We saw it with Staments when he compared him to luminaries like Elon Musk and Zephram Cochrane. And in this episode, he defied protocol to let her go after Sarek. He made it clear he couldn’t care less about Sarek, he just wanted to do something that would matter to her. Finally, he offered her a spot on the bridge. An opportunity to do science in a way that matters and puts her in the middle of all the action.
What’s even more interesting about the offer of the job, though, is when he does it. Just before he makes the offer, she exposes her vulnerability “To the chagrin of my Vulcan mentor, I am feeling a lot of emotions right now.” He knew that she was feeling out of control; that her foundation was rocked pretty hard. So he tossed her a lifeline. He showed her the light at the end of the tunnel.
I think that’s what led to her comment about being grateful. She’s not grateful for his aggression, or his one track mind. Not grateful for his desire for violence and recognition. What she’s grateful for is his ability to know what matters to her, and to others.
The last thing I want you to do is hear this and then go out and start manipulating people! The two sides of the coin are clear with Lorca, right? He wants to do blow stuff up, be called a hero and will use people however he needs to get that done, even if it means giving them some of what they want. No, I want you to hear this and see the impact that tapping into what people want, what matters to them, makes.
We’ve talked about the importance of getting to know the people you work with. To develop professional and meaningful connections with them. But here’s a quick story on how to do that.
Not too long before the recording of this episode I hired a new manager. This person leads a team of about 20 people that do analytical work. Their work is highly measurable and they’re responsible for contributing to some relatively high profile KPI’s, or Key Performance Indicators, for our organization. Now, if you were just given the responsibility to lead this team, what would you do? Or, more specifically, what would the traditional management model compel you to do?
If you guessed: meet with everyone to check in on their work, how they track their metrics and then setting up regular check-ins and updates on the work, you are correct!
But that is wrong.
If I can hammer one point home through the Starfleet Leadership Academy, it’s this: the ONLY thing that matters in your organization are the people that work there. As a leader, your primary purpose is to support them. The work, well, the work is a side effect of that. You treat your people with dignity and respect and they’ll do the work. In the fact, the more dignity and respect you offer, the better the work will be.
So let’s go back to you just starting as the manager of this group of analysts. The traditional answer is sort of right. I mean, you absolutely meet with everyone. You meet with them, one-on-one, and you get to know them. I’ll share what the new manager asked when they stepped into the role; it’s the perfect example of the right way to do this.
They asked, what do you like about your work? What don’t you like? How do you like to receive feedback? Do you prefer praise in public or privately? And then my two favorites: What can I do, as your manager, that will cause you to lose respect for me or the organization? And, if money wasn’t an issue, what would you do with your life?
What you’ll notice in that, is they didn’t ask for anything from the person. Like, they didn’t ask for metrics, reports or updates. They asked about the person. They got to know them. Now, through that, work stuff comes up, of course, but it’s not the focus.
Over time, what that does is help you form that connection I’ve been talking about in recent episodes. Immediately, though, it builds a rapport where you, as the leader, understand what motivates this person. It helps you lead them better, with their goals and desires in mind as you work to accomplish your organization’s goals.
Lorca does this, and he does it really well. Early in the episode, when he and Ash Tyler are in the combat simulator, he asks a lot of questions about his personal history. “questions from combat simulator.” On top of this, he’s read his service record and researched him. He’s done the same with Burnham. The difference between what Lorca does, and in what you are going to do, is in the motivation and the end-game. His motivation is to get them to do the things he wants them to do; to serve his purposes. Your motivation is to help the person be the best they can be in their given position and their next. Selfish vs Selfless. And, not to give too much away, Lorca’s approach, while effective in the short term, is not at all sustainable. Your approach, the approach the new manager I work with took, is more than sustainable. It’s the ultimate kind of sustainable. It’s self-sustainable. Like, it literally feeds and grows upon itself! The more time you invest in the people you work with, the better everyone gets. It’s honestly pretty incredible.
I love how much we’re able to learn from Lorca by adopting the opposite of what he does! He just proves you can learn from both good leaders and bad.
And speaking of good leaders, Burnham is firing on all cylinders in this one! She and Tilly have connected in a really cool way. Tilly even introduces her as her mentor! The cool thing about this scene is Burnham’s facial reaction when she says this. Like, she’s cool with it, but it’s totally unexpected.
Burnham has been a breath away from her own ship. The entire series started with a discussion between her and Georgiou talking about the fact it was time for her to move up. Tilly is a cadet; hasn’t even earned her commission yet. The two, amazing things that Burnham does for Tilly in this episode are things you can also do. So, so easily.
First, she shares her experience and insight. “6.5 seconds will earn you a commendation.” She knows, from experience, what things and actions have value and she’s encouraging those things. Now, when this scene was happening I mentioned she was missing a few steps, right? She was like, run this fast, get assigned to a cool ship, become and XO and boom! Captain. But other Star Trek, along with real life, have told us it’s a lot more complicated than that.
People often refer to a career ladder. I’m sure you’ve heard that expression before, right? I like to think of professional growth as a career lattice. Like, sometimes you have to move to the side before you can move up. You might even have to move to the side and down. But all of that experience comes together to help you be successful where you are in the moment.
So in a more traditional Star Trek sense, it would likely be more of a: run this fast, get your commission, serve on a smaller ship, like Discovery, earn a promotion, apply to a Constitution ship, or even something at Starfleet Command, then do a stint teaching at Starfleet Academy, and then come back to a bigger ship. Then work towards Department Head, XO and so on.
When you’re young and hungry, like Tilly is, this can sound so defeating. She just wants to be a Captain, why can’t she just do that?? Well, because it doesn’t work that way. And not in a – you have to pay your dues – kind of way. No, in a – you need the diverse experience kind of way.
When I got my first job as a manager, I immediately thought I was ready to be a General Manager for our company, or at least a senior assistant. But I needed experience dealing with different situations before I was ready to take on that role. Between that first manager job and my first executive role, wow, what a winding road that was! Manager positions, Project Management roles, Board facilitation experience, program level management. I mean, an entry level supervisor could easily look at someone in an executive role and think, I can do that. But what they don’t see are the loads of experiences and situations that person has been through that prepared them for that role.
Just before I got into executive leadership, for example, I had moved sideways from a leadership role in HR into a role where I managed grant funds for a federal program. On paper, it was a step to the side, and a step down. But what it did was give me an intimate understanding of complex funding structures, taught me how to bring diverse, sometimes hostile stakeholders together, and gave me the opportunity to experience, first-hand, the impacts of executive level decisions on service and product delivery models. In other words, it uniquely qualified for me the executive role in a way just ‘moving up the ladder’ could never do for me.
I want to hear from you about your career lattice. When have you had to move sideways in order to move up? Share it in our Facebook Group; the link is in the show notes.
The second thing Burnham did for Tilly, was let her steer her own path. She told her, explicitly, that her way was not the only way and that Tilly should find her way.
With these two things, she empowered Tilly by sharing knowledge and experience and then offered accountability in the fact it was up to her whether or not she used and, if she did use it, how to use it.
That is what you can do with the people you work with right now; today. Share your knowledge and experience, but do it in a way that informs. Don’t tell them what to do, just share what you know and help inform them to take the path that is right for their journey.
When have you had to move to the side or even step down in order to move up? I love these stories so much because they validate the journeys most of us are on. Just pop into our Facebook Group and share away! You can find it by searching Starfleet Leadership Academy Podcast, or clicking the link in the show notes.
You can also connect with me on the social media. I’m on Twitter: @ SFLA podcast and you can follow me just about everywhere, @jefftakin Jeff, t as in Trap, a k i n.
Computer, what are we going to watch next time….
A season spanning two-parter! It’s the second season finale and 3rd season premier of Voyager, Basics, parts one and two. We will have a lot to dive into in these episodes. They conclude Voyager’s Kazon arc; the Kazon, if you remember were the violent group they met in Caretaker. They also really put Janeway and the entire Voyager crew through some really difficult changes. I look forward to watching it with you.
Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!