April 20, 2021

025: DS9: In the Cards

Who Cheers up the Cheerer Upper?

Join Jeff Akin as he talks about morale and how to improve it with a strength-based approach. Today, Jeff will be focusing on season 5, episode 25 of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine titled “In the Cards.” This episode will showcase how you can keep you and your team motivated while maximizing your efficiency through incentive-based economics. There’s a lot to unpack, so stay tuned and enjoy the episode!

The Value of a Support System Like the crew in this episode, it can be challenging to show up when things are falling apart. When you are the leader of a team, one of your duties is to motivate the team, or more accurately, to create an environment in which people can choose to be inspired. A few ways to do so include spending time with people, hearing their problems, and working with them towards solutions. At the beginning of Episode 25, Sisko keeps people in a positive space by connecting them with the mission and actively participating in conversations with his team. But where does he go when he needs that same encouragement? As a person, we need a support system, a safe space to just be, or another person to encourage us. Sisko’s son did it for him, so like Sisko, everyone needs someone to support them.

Maximizing You and Your Team’s Efficiency As a manager, you want to maximize the efficiency of each team member. To do so, you need to ask the question, what do they want or what do they like? Most people feel rewarded when they know their work matters and is related to their interests and values. Hence, talk to your team and find out what they are, and then do them. The results will amaze you. Take the strength-based approach, for instance. With this approach, you learn the person's strengths and interests and then connect them to their work as much as possible, like incentive-based economics. Now, not every situation you find yourself in will fit this approach. But if you can learn what your team members value, you can find opportunities to connect them to the team’s overall mission. In this episode, Jake and Nog work to connect people to what was important to them. And on that journey, they improve the morale of everyone they helped. The goal was to help Sisko, but they allowed everyone to get there. If you follow that strength-based or incentive-based economic model, you might be able to do the same.

Resources: Psychology Today Article: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/where-science-meets-the-steps/201503/you-just-found-your-kid-s-drug-stash-now-what

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Welcome, everyone, and thank you for joining me today. We are going to learn about morale and a framework to improve it while motivating your teams as we watch Season 5, Episode 25 of Deep Space 9, In the Cards.
As we often have to do with Deep Space 9, there is some needed table setting. We haven’t touched on the Dominion as a force yet in this podcast. We’ll leave the details of them until episodes that involve them more. But, for this episode, you need to know that the Dominion are the dominant force in the Gamma Quadrant. The Federation, Klingons and other Alpha and Beta quadrant organizations have had various run-ins with them, but nothing like full-scale war has broken out. At this point in the series, there is an almost Cold War going on. Skirmishes, battles, kidnappings a lot of political intrigue, but not war. Yet.
We’ll encounter a key Dominion character later in the episode, Weyoun. Weyoun is a Vorta. Vorta can best be described as the tactical commanders and diplomats of the Dominion, and we see Weyoun in full diplomat mode later on.
So, with all that, we start off in Sisko’s quarters. He’s holding a dinner party of the senior staff and trying his best to raise spirits. But it is apparent his are far too low for him to be able to cheer anyone up. Understandably, all anyone can talk about are the three ships that have recently just disappeared along the Cardassian border. Eventually, he calls it a night, and Worf couldn’t be more excited. “You’re paroled, Worf.”
As they’re all leaving, he finds out Kai Winn is dropping by to see him the next day.
Last time we talked about the Bajoran religion, Opaka was the Kai. Stuff happened, and now Winn Adami is Kai…and she is awesome!! Honestly, arguably one of the best villains in all of Star Trek.
Quark is going to be holding an auction, and Jake has been invited. One of the lots has an item he is convinced will cheer Sisko up – a mint condition Willie Mays rookie card! “This is it! It’s perfect!”
Willie Mays, the “Say Hey Kid” is a hall-of-fame baseball player that played with the Giants in both New York and San Francisco. As of the time of this recording, in early 2021, that card is worth about $47,000!
Jake has a great line here, “people go to him to get cheered up.” This really is the message of this episode. Who cheers up the cheerer upper? We’ll talk in detail on this in the Command Codes.
This whole opening segment is great. It paints such a dark and bleak picture of the morale of the crew and the people living on the station. But Jake is going to drag Nog along with him to try and shine a little light on Deep Space 9. “All I have to do is get him this card…” Well, we’re about to find out.
If you remember Encounter at Farpoint, Picard made it clear the Federation doesn’t use money. So, Jake is, well…he’s broke. But he is so focused on getting this card, and on doing something great for his Dad, he convinces Nog to front him the latinum; he has 5 bars of it. “You don’t keep it under your bed?”
A little more context here. Nog is currently a cadet at Starfleet Academy, and hey, you can be a cadet too if you just head over to our patreon page – the link is in the show notes. In fact, he’s the first Ferengi every in the Academy. To get in, though, he needed a sponsor and he was able to convince Sisko to do that for him. We’ll see more of that in the 3rd season episode, Heart of Stone.
Jake leverages that sponsorship to guilt Nog into funding his venture.
Kai Winn shows up and quickly dismisses Kira “You may go now.” She and Sisko walk the promenade. She points out the shops that have closed down and then people that have left. The Dominion threat is real. “So many people have left DS9…”
She shares that she will be meeting with the Dominion on the station, at their request. She took the meeting hoping to protect Bajor from any hostilities. Sisko agrees that that is his goal as well. A rare moment of agreement between the two.
The auction goes the way you would expect in any TV show. Nog has a strategy that proves to work, “he’ll drop out at 2,” “ until a wildcard is introduced. It gets way out of hand and Jake bids double the amount of money Nog has! “10 bars!” The wildcard wins the lot and heads out.
Jake and Nog go on the chase. He basically blows them off and heads down a turbolift. Jake obsesses over it and Nog tries to reason with him “Take too seriously. It’s my Dad.”
The relationship between the Sisko’s is so good. As this podcast continues, we’ll see a lot of flaws in Sisko’s captaincy, but he is generally a really great father.
Weyoun arrives “Captain Sisko!” See, total diplomat. He leads him to meet Kai Winn.
Nog finds out the person that won the lot is Doctor Giger. He has agreed to meet with them. They walk in…and…immediately regret it. He has complex machinery and computers set up all through his quarters. He explains he is pursuing immortality. His theory is that cells basically get bored, and just give up. So he’s developing a cellular regeneration and entertainment chamber. “Death is the result of cellular boredom.” He agrees to trade the card in exchange for a list of highly specialized and unique supplies. They have no idea how they’re going to get all the supplies, but Jake won’t let anything get in his way. “That is the goal of my work. Excuse us for a moment…I can’t let my father down.”
They need a neodymium power cell, 5 liters of anaerobic metabolites suspended in a hydrosaline solution and some other stuff. They are struggling to get the things until Nog shares a new strategy, “Let me show you a thing about incentive based economics…” And they get to it. They’re going to help other get what they need so they get what they need! O’Brien needs help with some EPS regulators calibrated so he can go kayaking in the holosuites “You calibrate and I’ll scan,” and Dr Bashir wants Kukalaka. His teddy bear. Worf wants his Klingon opera sound files cleaned up, and Kira needs help with a speech. They check in with Dr Giger as the progress. He activates a console which makes a weird humming noise; “You know what that is…” which Weyoun can hear since he’s in the upstairs apartment…I mean the quarters right above Giger’s. It takes them some time, but they get everything on the list!
Kai Winn meets with Sisko. Weyoun is proposing a non-aggression treaty between Bajor and the Dominion. He advises that they do not sign and says that even though they’re not members of the Federation, they will battle to protect them. She agrees to stall for time to “keep Bajor’s options open.”
Jake and Nog return to Giger with the last of the supplies, and he’s gone! It looks like no one was ever there. They then see Kai Winn talking with a vedek; the person they were bidding against at the beginning of the auction. Jake decided the Kai has kidnapped Giger to get some of the items in the lot the vedek was trying to win.
Jake says they’re going to, beard the lion in its den, meaning he’s going to face danger head on, specifically for personal gain.
I’ve got to say, the stuff between Nog and Jake is so good in this! Jake is slipping into total obsession and Nog is trying to be the voice of reason. “Lions and Gigers and Bears.” Because bearding the lion and Giger and Kukalaka…Hahaha! It’s great!
Winn continues along and meets with Weyoun. She tells him she has to meet with First Minister about his proposal and then sees him off. Jake intercepts her and accuses her of kidnapping Giger!
Cut to Sisko freaking out “you accused the Kai…” Jake squirms around the truth and they end up confined to quarters. “DISMISSED!”
Wow. That was harsh. Way too much. Like, he completely crossed the line here, right? Well, yes…but also no. First, Nog is a cadet. Kind of like we discussed in Learning Curve and the Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry, the culture of Starfleet Academy can be authoritative and military in nature. Very boot camp. Sisko’s response here is in alignment with how Nog could expect to be treated were he at the Academy. So, I can support his behavior there.
But, Jake is his son, and isn’t even almost in Starfleet Academy. Jakes excuse to not reveal what they were actually doing was that he and Nog got drunk at Quark’s. Not a good story there from Jake. But, I don’t agree with this approach with a kid that just shared what Jake did. In my opinion, and the opinions of psychologists, medical and parenting professionals, Sisko’s reaction is harmful, even to a person as old as Jake. In fact, Doctor David Sack addressed this in a Psychology Today article that reminds parents the key is to come from a place of love and with a desire for health and wellness. Yelling and immediately reacting just closes the door on future, productive conversations on the topic. (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/where-science-meets-the-steps/201503/you-just-found-your-kid-s-drug-stash-now-what)
Frustration, even anger are totally understandable. But it’s better to just admit that and give yourself time to calm down. “Jake, I am having a hard time processing that right now. I am frustrated and getting angrier by the second. I need you to wait in your quarters until we’re ready to discuss this.” Then you calm down, collect yourself, and handle it like mature human beings.
This is the same behavior you should use with your teams. There will come a time that a team member will way cross the line. Blowing up at them and yelling will do nothing more than exacerbate the issue and erode trust between you. Admit and share your anger and frustration, professionally, and then address the behavior when you can behave in an appropriate manner.
Not the best move by Sisko here.
As Jake and Nog head to their quarters, they get beamed into a room. Sitting across from them, is Weyoun!
This scene is awesome!! Weyoun heard the sound the cellular regeneration and entertainment chamber was making and stole all the equipment, along with Dr. Giger. He believes Jake and Nog are conspiring with him to somehow hurt the Dominion “the meetings with senior staff or Kai Winn.” They protest their innocence but Weyoun threatens violence. Seeing no other option, Jake tells a story about being part of Starfleet Intelligence.
“We’ll tell you the truth. We’re listening. Oh no.” Nog is sitting there, squirming and freaking out.
But it works. Weyoun sees how ridiculous the story is “I believe you. Your first story” He gives Jake the card and lets them leave.
In his log, Sisko notes that morale is up and the senior staff are generally happy and optimistic even though the galaxy is still spiraling into a dumpster fire. He shares a lesson his father taught him: “Even in the dark there’s something that will make you smile.”
Jake gives him the baseball card. He grabs him and gives him a big hug as we fade to credits.
<<Red Alert>>
I love this episode. I love everything about it. Well, except the lack of depth in leadership lessons, but we’re in good shape – still some really good stuff.
This episode works because of the characters. Most of the cast have just small parts. Dax isn’t even in the episode! But the stories they tell are real and have substance because, as we near the end of season 5, and the beginning of all out war, we know these people.
O’Brien’s passion for kayaking was a part of him back on TNG. The Kukalaka story was great and touching because we know Bashir, and while he’s the last person in the world that you would imagine having a teddt bear, he’s also exactly the person that would have a teddy bear!
Jake and Nog’s relationship is the centerpiece. They have great chemistry and I think we can all relate to this situation, right? Like, we’ve all had that time when a friend was getting way too obsessed with something and everyone ends up getting in a little more trouble than maybe they should have. This was really fun.
But it’s also a highlight of that challenge childhood friendships all face. They’re lives are diverging. Nog wants to be a Starfleet Officer while Jake is still living a carefree life and focusing more and more on his writing. In fact, as the series progresses, this episode marks an important evolution in their relationship, where they still stick together, but their motivations are apparently separating.
Deep Space 9 aired in an interesting time in TV. The concept that there was more to villain than just being evil was really gaining acceptance. In fact, this episode aired in June of ’97. Just a year prior, in June of 1996, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin won the King of the Ring Tournament launching the era of the anti-hero.
DS9 seemed to embrace this. The big bads through the series, Kai Winn, Gul Dukat, Weyoun, and later, Damar, are complex individuals that all have endearing moments if not qualities.
In this episode we see two of them, Weyoun and Kai Winn. And while we know they’re the bad guys, we can also sympathize with them and even appreciate some of what they do.
Kai Winn is scared and worried about her people. She seeks out the one man she envies more than anyone else, the Emissary, Benjamin Sisko, and authentically asks for his advice. And she follows it!!
Like, there a version of this where she publicly asks his advice and then does the opposite, twisting it around to make Sisko look bad. “I too understand political games.” But she doesn’t. She takes his advice because she wants what she believes to be the best for her world which includes its protection.
And Weyoun, who is portrayed by the masterful Jeffrey Combs, is great. He’s slimy, political, and an outright manipulator. But when the cards are all on the table, he listens and does the right thing. Sisko represents the enemy to him; he represents the Federation. But even with that, he gives Jake the baseball card to help brighten Sisko’s day.
<<Command Codes>>
Have you ever gone to work and immediately regretted it? Sat at your desk or logged into a virtual meeting and just felt your life force drain out of your body? I know I have. And if you haven’t, you haven’t been doing this long enough yet.
These are hard time to get through but they are also not unexpected. I almost said normal there, but, really, we shouldn’t normalize these occasions; they’re an indication that something is wrong. Or somethingS are wrong.
Generally speaking, when everything is going as planned and great, at worst you might get bored. But, like the crew in this episode, when things are falling apart, it’s hard to even show up.
When you are the leader of a team, one of your duties is to motivate the team. Or, more accurately, to create environments in which people can choose to be motivated. This often means spending time with people, hearing their problems, and working with them towards solutions. I know I find myself often putting a new coat of paint on something that isn’t going great.
Years ago we implemented a new software system for processing payments. It was, objectively, a total failure. But we were invested; no going back. Now, I didn’t lie to my team or try to make them think everything was fine. But I would try to put a positive angle on things. We had to live with this, we might as well smile while we swim through burning oil to get smacked in the face just for doing it, you know!
That’s what Sisko does. That’s what Jake is talking about at the beginning of the episode. He helps keep people in a positive space. He often does this by keeping them connected to the mission and by actively listening and participating in conversations with his team.
But where does he go when he needs that same encouragement? Where does he refill his paint his can so he can keep that dumpster fire looking decent?
Or, more to the point, where do you go?
As a leader, no, as a person, we need this in our lives. A support system or a support team. A safe place to vent and to be encouraged. And that doesn’t need to be in your chain of command! I mean, Sisko’s son did it for him here!
It is critical that you have a place you can go, a person you can talk to. A great way to do this is to find a mentor. Someone that has been there before. A mentor not only listens but also helps guide problem solving so you can be more successful, and maintain a healthy level of morale.
A mentor doesn’t have to be someone in your organization. In fact, in my experience, it’s ideal to have a mentor outside of your reporting structure at the very least. That helps create a safe place where you can be authentic and as transparent as possible without compromising anyone’s trust. Set up regular check-ins with them. Define your goals and what you hope to achieve with them. And leave space in your relationship so they can help you keep your nose above water in those times you can’t even imagine showing up to work.
A really cool thing happened in this episode. Jake had to go on a journey to do something for his dad. I mean, this could have been a short segment across two Acts and just have been a moment in Deep Space 9; Jake wins the auction, gives it to Sisko and he’s happy about it. Episode continues with some other story.
Instead, Jake and Nog had to help others along the way. Nog’s concept of incentive based economics was an excellent framework for this. As a leader, and especially as a manager, this framework is worth its weight in gold-pressed latinum!
It’s not about a monetary exchange, it’s about helping a person get or achieve what they want, so they can give you what you want. They need some weird medical stuff from Bashir. Bashir wants his teddy bear back. They sneak into Leeta’s room – more on Leeta in future episodes – get Kukalaka and return him to Bashir. He is over the moon excited and happily gives them the anaerobic gel stuff.
You can directly apply this with your teams. You’re the manager, you want to maximize the efficiency from a team member. But what do they want? Really want? We’ve talked in earlier episodes about the fact most people feel rewarded when they know their work matters and when they are working on something they care about or are interested in. So talk to them! Find out what those things are, and then do them! You will get amazing things from your team and for your organization.
I was talking with a colleague that works for one of our partners. They were sharing they had an employee they were really struggling with. They would come to work and just do the absolute, bare minimum; and that was on a good day. They said this employee was good, and had real potential, but just couldn’t seem to motivate them to do their job well…or even just consistently.
So they took what they called a strength-based approach, where you learn the person’s strengths and interests and then let them do that work as much as possible. Sounds kind of like incentive based economics, right?
What they did was ask the person what they wanted to do; where their interests were. They shared they were working on a degree in education and wanted to teach. It just so happened that this organization was in heading into a substantial systems and policy change that was going to require intense and effective training. And, just to add to the beauty of the situation, my colleague was also responsible for building the team to develop and deliver that training.
They reassigned the person to that team and since then they have been thriving!
Now, not every situation you find yourself in will fit as well as this one. But when you can find out what is truly important to a person, and you can find opportunities to connect them to what is important to them, Nog’s Law of Incentive Based Economics, or a strength based approach, will pay off in a big way!
Here, Jake and Nog worked to connect people to what was important to them. And on that journey they improved the morale of everyone they helped. The goal was to help Sisko, but they helped everyone to get there.
<<Hailing Frequencies>>
When I was a kid, my brother was obsessed with baseball cards. Topps, Fleer, Upper Deck…if you know, you know. What were you into as a kid? Do you have any great collectibles. More importantly, do you have a mint-condition Willie Mays rookie card you’d like to donate to the Starfleet Leadership Academy? Let me know! We’re on Twitter: @ SFLA podcast and you can follow me @jefftakin Jeff, t as in Teddy Bear, a k i n.
And, I’d like to ask a favor. If you have enjoyed the Starfleet Leadership Academy, please tell a friend or colleague about it, and, leave a review in your podcatcher. I’d really appreciate it.
Now let’s see what we’re going to watch next time….
Oh wow. I knew this day would come. We will meet Lokai and Bele (Beel) in the 15th episode of the 3rd season of the Original Series, Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.
If you don’t remember this iconic episode, it’s the one with the two people that are half black and half white. If I remember correctly, there are some valuable lessons in this one, on top of the very obvious commentary on the ridiculousness of racism. I always enjoy the Original Series episodes and I hope you will too.
But until then, Ex Astris Scientia!
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