A Leader Will Stand Up For Their Team. Or, As We Call It, "Sisko Up."
On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek Deep Space 9, Inquisition (Season 6, Episode 18). He will examine the leadership approaches of Captain Sisko.
In this episode we are introduced to "Deputy Director" Sloan (aka The Reaper, aka Death) and Section 31. He challenges everything we've every discussed about ends justifying the means. And we learn how to "Sisko Up!"
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Welcome, everyone! Thanks for joining me today. Slight spoiler alert here, I love this episode! It is so much of what makes Deep Space 9 amazing. And a big part of that is how Sisko supports his team, even through the worst. See what I mean as we watch the 18th episode of the 6th season of Deep Space 9, Inquisition.
Bashir is off to a medical conference! “Where is it, Risa?” Interesting how conferences always happen at cool places like that. Like, there’s never a big conference in Casper, Wyoming…no offense to anyone in Wyoming.
O’Brien comes in with a dislocated shoulder from kayaking. Bashir fixes him up real quick and heads out. “Have fun on your vacation.”
Bashir’s alarm goes off in the morning and he just can’t believe it! We’ve all been there before. It’s time to start the day and it feels like you just laid down 5 minutes ago. Well, that’s Bashir today. He grabs his gear and heads off to his shuttle…but then Sisko calls all the senior officers to Ops.
Internal Affairs is here. Deputy Director Sloan. They believe there is a Dominion spy on board the station and are confining them all to quarters so they can conduct an investigation. “We’ve already informed Starfleet Medical you won’t be attending your conference.” Sloan tells them not to talk with each other during the investigation and that he hopes to wrap this up as quickly as possible.
In his quarters Bashir is trying to get hot buttered scones from the replicator but it’s not responding. Oh…that sounds really good right now. He’s going with red leaf tea with the scones, I’d be more about some delicious, aromatic, black coffee, but I can get on board with Bashir’s breakfast.
He’s called to the wardroom for his interview with Sloan. A very uptight security guard escorts him. The interview goes well, “When I first came in here I thought I would be interrogated under a bright light.” and is over pretty quickly. They talk about when he was abducted by the Dominion, back in season 5; about a year ago, and when he helped a group of socially outcast people that were also genetically engineered like Bashir is. That happened just a few episodes before this one.
On his way back to his quarters Sloan says they’ve disabled the replicators and takes his breakfast order, old school style! It comes via room service, and, as one might expect, they messed up the order. He got Worf’s breakfast which was a wriggly plate of live gagh. So now he’s tired and super hungry.
He notices that his stuff has been moved around and his quarters have been searched. And despite their attempts to isolate everyone, O’Brien reaches out to Bashir on a communication panel. He says he was interrogated for hours! “About you!” Every question was about Bashir. He cuts the communication quickly so they don’t get caught. Seconds after that, Sloan asks him to come back to the wardroom. “I was going over my notes and I’d like you to clarify a few things.”
He starts really diving into the 5 weeks he spent in a Dominion internment camp. His theory is that Bashir was basically brainwashed, “engrammatic dissociation.” Basically, because of Bashir’s genetic engineering, the Dominion were able to compartmentalize his brain so he acts as a spy but doesn’t even know it! “No chance of you being caught because you don’t even know they’re doing it to you.” They are able to crack the code and get him to share info, but Bashir would have no idea. This is terrifying and indefensible! If the brainwashing works, you have no idea what you’re doing and no control of it so you can’t admit to anything but you also can’t prove you’re not doing anything. Any defense you put up can be swatted away just by saying that it’s your engrammatic dissociation. Quite the trap Sloan has laid here.
Then, Sloan ramps it up “you want to do things the hard way? Fine.” And officially charges him and sends him to the brig. They cuff him and walk him through the Promenade on the way to the brig. “Is it really necessary to drag a Starfleet officer across the Promenade?” One of many moments Sisko steps up for Bashir.
As they lock him up, the security guards insult and demean him, they make it personal. But Bashir stands up for himself “glad to see you enjoy your work.” They stop just short of shoving him as they take his communicator badge and tell him to get in his cell. “You won’t be needing this.” Step inside.
After a short while, Sisko comes in and demands one-on-one time with Bashir. Sloan tries to stop him but Sisko plays rank. “Have you received orders that tell you to relieve me of duty?” He says that he demands being present at all questionings moving forward to be sure Bashir’s rights are respected.
Cut to an interrogation that has clearly been going on for some time. Both Bashir and Sisko are looking exhausted. “This is irrelevant!” He tries helping but Sloan just continues. Nothing is deterring him. He goes through a litany of lies Bashir has told through his life to hide his genetic engineering. Sisko says he eventually came clean but Sloan won’t accept that, “Why did you come forward? I was found out?”
After the interrogation, he pleads with Sisko, “How can I defend myself to this man?” But even Sisko is starting to question. He says he believes Bashir is not lying, but he does see that it’s possible he was brainwashed and is working for the Dominion without knowing it. He leaves, and Bashir drops to the deck, defeated.
After a short amount of time, Sloan wakes him up to transfer him to Starbase 53. They go to cuff him and he’s transported away! It’s a Cardassian transporter beam. He finds himself face to face with a Vorta. The Vorta. With Weyoun.
If you remember, the Vorta are the administrative, leadership species of the Dominion. They lead Jem Hadar forces and handle diplomatic relations. Weyoun tells Bashir that they’ve come to rescue and debrief him but Bashir fires back, “I’m not a Dominion spy! You really believe that, don’t you?” Weyoun confirms everything Sloan has been saying. Says this has been going for a very long time. Bashir starts to break “I don’t remember any of it. Of course not.”
Weyoun offers him food, remember he still hasn’t eaten anything. It’s buttered scones. Apparently, Weyoun used scones as part of the engrammatic dissociation. He keeps trying but Bashir bounces back, reiterates he’s not a spy. Then he starts to see some patterns, “Why would you both try to convince me of the same lie, unless…” Suddenly, an ship, the Defiant, attacks the Cardassian ship! Kira and Worf beam over and rescue Bashir.
Well…maybe rescue isn’t the right word. They’ve arrested him. They start digging into him, much like the security guards were earlier. “I have had enough of your lies, Doctor. Get him off my bridge!” He pleads for help from everyone, anyone and they all turn him away. He turns to his best friend, to O’Brien. But he actually pushes Bashir away!
And that’s where it all falls apart. “Your shoulder.” He would have still been healing from the kayaking incident. Suddenly, the scene fades away and Bashir’s in a holodeck. Sloan and two security guards, dressed in harsh, black leather, are standing there. Sloan says this has all been an enhanced interrogation technique that has proven Bashir is not a spy. They intentionally kept him hungry and tired and put him through all these paces to see if he was or was not a spy. They beamed him out of his quarters when he was asleep and put him this holodeck. “I believe we allowed you a full hour.” That’s why he was so tired…I wonder if that’s what happens to me, just beamed from holodeck to holodeck after just an hour of sleep.
They concocted this whole scenario to keep him under stress and to test if he had been brainwashed. O’Brien’s injury happened after they prepped everything so they weren’t aware.
Then Bashir flips the script and asks who Sloan is and who he works for. “Let’s just say I work for another branch of Starfleet Intelligence. Section 31.” They do the dirty work that keeps things running smoothly in the Federation. Totally covert, completely secret. They’re an “autonomous department.” Bashir has a real problem with this, says it flies in the face of what the Federation stands for.
Then Sloan tries to get Bashir to be a part of Section 31 “A few moments ago you thought I was a traitor and now you’re trying to recruit me.” He adamantly shuts them down and they send him back to Deep Space 9. But not before a huge flex! Bashir threatens to tell everyone about Section 31, to reveal their secret and Sloan responds, “Let’s just say I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.”
Odo, Kira and Sisko are talking about Sloan and Section 31. Sisko says Starfleet has no record of Sloan and “as for Section 31, that’s a little more complicated.” They’ll neither confirm nor deny its existence. Sisko wants to learn more about them, get at them! Odo completely understands why there would be a Section 31, “Romulans have the Tal Shiar, Cardassians the Obsidian Order.” But neither Bashir nor Sisko are ok with that. Sisko tells Bashir that the next time Sloan comes around to agree to work with them; infiltrate the organization. “The next time he asks you to join his little group, you will say yes.”
What a cool concept for an episode! I mean, it’s not unique in Star Trek, the whole parallel experience thing, but this one was done so masterfully. The real life portion of this episode ended when Bashir left the medbay to go to sleep and picked up again in the holodeck. Everything else was an illusion.
Honestly, maybe not the worst way to work a confession out of a suspect. It’d be easy, right? Create a holographic environment that they believe is real and put them in a situation where they would do the bad thing or reveal who the bad person was. In this case it totally cleared Bashir from a crime that he’d never had been able to defend himself against.
Now…if we can just figure out the whole holodeck thing….
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So much of this episode just flies in the face of Gene Roddenberry’s vision, at least at first glance. Famously, or maybe infamously, Roddenberry insisted that there not be any conflict between members of the crew. He believed society would have evolved past petty conflict by the 24th century. He also painted the Federation as this utopia where everyone worked to support each other and they would cling to their principles over all.
DS9 was always meant to be a little darker than TOS and TNG were, but Ira Steven Behr can be credited with taking it to where it went. He became co-showrunner at the beginning of season 3 and when Michael Piller went on to start Voyager, he became the sole showrunner. Much of what we see from late season 3 on is from the mind of Behr.
In my opinion, he still bought into Roddenberry’s vision, but in a much more pragmatic way. Yes, the Federation was a utopia, but not everyone wants to live in paradise. That was the approach we heard in the episode DS9: For the Cause, one of my favorite Starfleet Leadership Academy episodes. Roddenberry wanted all things Federation to sparkle and shine but Behr understood, and portrayed, that even shiny things have an underside to them.
This episode, though, goes where Roddenberry would never have gone before! A black ops unit that answers to no one. That is comparable to the worst of the worst in the Tal Shiar and the Obsidian Order? We got a taste of the Tal Shiar when I talked about TNG’s Unification and Face of the Enemy. How could Starfleet have an equivalent to that? Well, they do. And I think it says so much about anyone’s vision of a utopia.
As we go deeper into Discovery, we’ll talk more about Section 31. We’ll hit on them in Enterprise too. But the overarching question, at least from me, will be similar to Bashir’s in this episode. Why. Why would the Federation stoop to such a level? And, by stooping to this level, are they invalidating everything the Federation stands for?
We’ve talked a few times about the concept of the ends justifying the means. Recently, in the Starfleet Leadership Academy episode TNG: Code of Honor we examined this pretty closely. In that episode, Picard decided that the ends do not justify the means and went so far as to put Lt. Yar’s life in danger as well as the planet suffering from the pandemic. But, by having Section 31 as an active department, the Federation is at least implying that the ends do indeed justify the means. In fact, Sloan even says as much! “I believe the ends do justify the means.”
He goes on to make a compelling case based on the many lives Section 31 has saved. I love this about Star Trek. Intentionally or not, it provides us with these ethical and philosophical quandaries that do not necessarily have a definitive answer.
Ok, I’m going to do something I might regret. But, leadership is about stepping out of our comfort zones and helping others to do the same. Right? So here it goes. I want you to go to the Starfleet Leadership Academy Facebook group and take a position on this. We can do it debate team style. Do the ends justify the means? Take the pro or the against, and let’s debate this. High school debate team style, right. No name calling, no politics…in fact, to help keep it clean, or at least more clean, let’s keep the topics and examples focused on Star Trek.
If the ends do justify the means then, put simply, Section 31 is the most important part of the Federation. I’m excited to see what happens when Bashir agrees to work with them.
This is a fantastic episode of Deep Space 9. It is well written, well paced and so very thought provoking. And it even has Jeffrey Combs! We’ve talked about him a bit; met him as the worst person in the world in DS9 Meridian. But as Weyoun he is amazing. We’re going to learn more about Weyoun when we get some of the deeper Dominion War episodes, but I’ll suffice it to say that he lasted as long on the series completely as a result of Jeffrey Combs just nailing the character.
Oh! And I haven’t even mentioned William Sadler as Sloan yet! Death himself! He’s such a powerful on screen presence and was perfect for this role. I think I read somewhere that they almost cast Martin Sheen in this role. Now that would have been fantastic, but I think Sadler is perfect. He has that edge that Sheen only really lets fly as a voice actor, in my opinion. But even during the interrogation scenes, he has those moments where you just want to like him. Where his humanity breaks through even just for an instant. But then, with just the slightest shift, he is terrifying. Section 31 to a tee!
And what is it that makes Deep Space 9 my favorite series? The characters and their relationships. Yes, Bashir is genetically engineered, yes he is absolute brilliant but it wasn’t any of that that saved him or exposed the ruse. No, it was his relationships with O’Brien and Sisko. He knew them so well, and knew at least O’Brien’s physical state, that their behavior is what tipped him off. Even in an episode that focused on just one person – hey, that’s two episodes in a row for us like that – we see the depth and value of the character development in this series.
Benjamin Sisko is such a strong leader that even in a holographic representation he stands up for his crew and gets right between them and danger. Bashir’s observation that Sisko was acting weird wasn’t as apparent as O’Brien’s shoulder, no, it was about his leadership style. As it was all coming together he said, “Captain Sisko would at least be willing to hear me out.” Sisko demonstrates exactly what it looks like to be a leader when the people you work with are in trouble or in danger.
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When Sloan first rolls in, Sisko is a begrudging participant. He doesn’t like what’s going on but there really isn’t anything he can do about it. But the second things get out of control he is right on it. He’s in that brig as soon as he knows Bashir is in there and he’s fighting for his teammate.
Sloan seems to have an answer for everything Sisko throws at him, so he settles for an advocacy role. But he inhabits that role. He sits in on the interrogation, he pushes back, he asks questions and tries to set Bashir up as best he can to be successful. Even when he has reason to doubt Bashir, he is still supportive and commits to ensuring his rights aren’t violated.
This is one of the primary jobs for any leader. Deep Space 9 without any people on it is just a hunk of metal in space. Your organization, your program, your shop, your restaurant, your place of business without people is just a building – or a bunch of buildings depending on how big your company is. My point is that without people there is nothing.
So you may look at someone like Sisko and say his job is to administer the day-to-day operations of a space station, or to act as a liaison between various governments, enforcing treaties where applicable and negotiating them as needed. And, yeah, those are all things he does, but they aren’t the core of his job.
His job is to support the people that make Deep Space 9 what it is.
So what’s your job? Is it writing the schedule for the week? Streamlining and maximizing EBITDA? Is it counting out the tills at the end of the night? Well, I’d say that those are certainly things that many of you do, but your job, as a leader, is to support the people that make your organization what it is.
It is very unlikely that you’re going to have a situation where one of your employees is being investigated for being a spy. Unlikely, but probability is not zero…I know what some of you do for a living! But, still, what are situations your team may encounter where you’d need to Sisko up?
I recently helped out on a company’s campaign where they were trying to light a fire under one of their partners and start moving more of their product. They assigned reps, by region, and set up incentives for them to connect with the partner’s people in the area. It got pretty competitive and one of the reps started accusing one of the others of stealing their prospects. Things escalated quickly and it didn’t take long for the accused rep to reach out saying they felt threatened and unsafe.
I was on the call with them and their manager and the manager did a great job. They listened and got the facts but also listened with empathy to try and help the person feel heard and to help them feel more safe.
The next call was with the accuser. Now both of these people report to the same person so that made it easier. And again, the manager did a great job. Much like we talked about in the episode on DS9 Things Past, they listened with curiosity and asked great questions. They didn’t come in accusing the person of anything, but instead tried to understand what was happening from their perspective.
It became apparent very quickly that this guy’s numbers were terrible and he figured attacking someone that was doing well would be better than stepping up his game. This is when the manager Sisko’d up. They told the rep that their behavior was unacceptable and that if anything like this happened again, and I’ll never forget when they said this, it was so ridiculous and so awesome at the same time, but they said that if they went after any reps again, especially this one, they’d ‘never work in IT again!’
That was great! Stand up for your team, being clear with expectations and consequences. But…never work in IT again. Yeah…I think it would take something so catastrophic I can’t even think of it to blacklist someone from that industry. There’s enough toxicity it could have its own avenger, but…that’s an entirely different topic!
Another example, that may be more common and maybe a little more complex is when a customer is freaking out on someone you work with. Yep! Kinda like that. Well first, and I hope this is obvious, you don’t leave your person hanging out there by themselves. You get in there. You insert yourself, physically, between them and point that firehose right at you.
But let’s add a dimension to this one. Let’s say the customer is right and your teammate did screw something up. You’ve probably been here before too. “They did this and that and I demand that they are fired! Right now!”
Now you get to Sisko up twice! First by getting in there and protecting the person you work with, but again by standing up for them even if they were wrong. That doesn’t mean lying to the customer, that means you control the situation, not them. “I understand you’re upset and would like them fired. They did this and that. If that had happened to me, I would be furious too. Now, let’s go over here where I can talk to you about something other than firing my employee and do it in a place where you’re not putting on a show for everyone.”
Use empathy, listen to them, even agree with them! But do not agree with the course of action you’re going to take with your teammate. That is not their choice, it’s yours.
Of course, after you’ve finished with the customer, you talk with that employee and you deal with them, whatever that looks like. They don’t get a free pass. You hold them accountable and responsible, but you do so on your terms and your organizations.
Sloan, sorry, I just love Sadler in Bill and Ted! But Sloan saw fit to lock Bashir up so Sisko went in and did what he could to get him out of his cell or at least help as he could. But he didn’t sugar coat anything with Bashir. He told him he had doubts and was very honest with him. But he did everything he could to be sure he could take the brunt from what Sloan was throwing.
So be Sisko. Stand up for the people you work with. Don’t tolerate them being treated poorly, unfairly or wrong. Even if they are in the wrong, you ensure they are treated with dignity. A leader’s first job and responsibility is to the people they work with. Period. No exceptions. If Sisko can do it for an alleged spy as a holographic simulation, you can do it in real life.
We’re gonna do it! High school debate, Starfleet Leadership Academy style! Join us on the Starfleet Leadership Academy Facebook group and let’s debate, both sides, of the philosophical and ethical quandary – do the ends justify the means?
You can also follow me on Twitter: @ SFLA podcast and all the social media, @jefftakin Jeff, t as in Totally Covert, a k i n.
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Computer, what are we going to watch next time….
It’s been a long time, like 10 episodes since we’ve gotten Enterprise, but here we are! From the 1st season, episode 19, Acquisition. This is controversial one. The alien they encounter…well, there’s one side of the house that believes space is vast and contact is always possible while the other side of the house believes this invalidates a ton of Star Trek canon. We’ll watch and make our own judgement, next time on the Starfleet Leadership Academy!
Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!