Assuming the worst never ends well.
On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek Enterprise, The Xindi (Season 3, Episode 1). He will examine the leadership approaches of Captain Archer, Lt. Reed and Dr. Phlox.
Ego gets in the way of so many things. In this episode we see Dr Phlox set his ego aside, and Lt. Reed embrace it. Phlox is able to achieve the impossible and Reed puts the Captain and the ship in dire straits.
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Welcome! Thanks for joining me today. Have you ever had to communicate the same thing to people multiple times? Like, why aren’t they getting it? Well, thanks to, yet another, example of poor leadership from Captain Archer, we get to talk about how to effectively communicate, and reinforce a message to your team. I’m also going to share the dangers of attaching your ego to just about anything work-related. I’m looking forward to this one! It’s the first episode of the third season of Enterprise, The Xindi.
We’re in the middle of a council meeting. What looks like a bunch of new and diverse species. A reptile looking dude, maybe like an ape, a humanoid, some underwater sea monsters and a big ‘ol fly! They’re worried that this Earth ship they keep hearing about in the Delphic Expanse is coming for them. Oh! I think these might be some Xindi, or at least the reptilian ones. Remember in The Expanse we saw the body of the Xindi that flew the weapon to Earth? The reptile looking dude here looks really similar.
WHOA! And they changed up the theme music. 2:26 A lot more upbeat, going from the four feel to a two, basically a double-time backbeat feel that ensures me that this season will be fun, uplifting and kinda poppy.
To back that up, Archer, T’Pol and Reed are in a new command center that was built on Enterprise during the refit. They’re heading to some mines to meet a worker, who a freighter captain says, is a Xindi. Reed, as the Tactical Officer is advising caution as they approach the mines. Archer responds with an absolute master class on how to reinforce and support your team. “Where are we, Malcolm?” <<DUPLICATE THIS SECTION; CUT IT SHORT HERE AND THEN FOR A DEEP DIVE LATER>> 4:25 Archer’s frustrated. They’ve been in the Delphic Expanse for 6 weeks and this the only lead they’ve uncovered so far.
We meet some of the MACOs, “Military Assault Command” 5:44 This is their first, long-term underway and are just starting to acclimate. Major Hayes leads the team and they seem to be a close, well-run team.
Dr Phlox is still learning what he can about the Xindi based on what they found on the body back on Earth. He visits with T’Pol to talk about Tucker. He’s not coping well with the death of his sister in the Xindi attack and isn’t getting much sleep. Sedatives and other, more traditional treatments aren’t working well and he says to T’Pol, “I believe he’d do well with Vulcan neuro-pressure.” 8:59 But she is not ok with this idea. “The instruction of neuro-pressure is very intimate.” 9:15 But Phlox persists and she ultimately agrees. Unfortunately, Trip has says he’s not ok with this, so Phlox is trying to get her to help convince him. Sneaky stuff, Dr Phlox!
Reed and Archer get to the mines. The atmosphere is toxic, over long periods of time, so they are trying to be quick about it. The foreman of the mine, though, is a real opportunist. He requires a bunch of liquified platinum before he makes the introduction. To prove he’s serious, he gives them the tip of the Xindi’s finger! Says it was from an “unfortunate accident.” 13:15 They return to Enterprise to confirm it’s Xindi and to see if they can pull together the platinum.
We get a few glimpses of Tucker’s nightmares that wake him up. It’s sad. Not only does he have to watch his sister die, but he does it wearing some awkward, late 90’s casual wear. Yikes. That really is a nightmare.
Phlox examines the finger. Archer asks if it’s Xindi and Phlox says, “Yes, and no.” 14:22 A lot of it lines up with the samples he’s been studying, but not quite. The Xindi he’s been studying was reptilian, this guy has humanoid skin. Hmm…maybe it’s from one of the dudes we saw back in that council scene.
Archer and Trip go back to the mine. They mine Trellium D to insulate starships and it’s very valuable. They’ve found the platinum, and the foreman sends them down to meet the Xindi worker. Yep! Looks a lot like the humanoid we saw in the council scene! They try to get him to tell them where the Xindi homeworld is, but the barter system is alive and well here! “If you want information, you have to do something for me.” 18:48 He wants them to bust him out! All the workers are people that have been captured and enslaved. He’s got nothing to lose so he’s not budging till they agree to free him and Trip escalates things, quickly. “I’m itching to kick the hell out of you.” 19:25 Archer begs him off. They give up on him and head back to their shuttlepod. As they leave, dude tells them they’re doomed. “usually they have to go get new workers. You came right to them!” 20:00 And right on queue, the doors are locked and their communications are blocked. They’re trapped in the mines!
On Enterprise, the foreman tells them there is a delay because there are cargo ships on the way and they’re de-ionizing the landing decks so they have to wait and it’ll keep comms down. Reed, remember, the guy that thought caution would be a good thing here but then Archer shut him down? Yeah, well Reed says, “something doesn’t smell right.” 21:35 and he couldn’t be more right.
Xindi worker guy says he can lead them to the surface. They wade through raw sewage and then climb through inactive plasma ducts. That leads them to a big ‘ol tube that they get to climb up.
Major Hayes and Reed are arguing about who should lead the rescue effort. Reed takes the conflict super personally, but they eventually compromise that 6 MACOs will go but Reed will lead them. They head down, weapons hot. Only half-an-hour till the cargo vessels arrive and then Enterprise will be locked in a losing battle too.
On the climb up, the Xindi shares quite a bit. There are 5 distinct species of Xindi and they rarely get along or agree. He was going to share more, but the foreman is on to them and they have to shift plans pretty quickly “Need to pick up the pace, gentlemen.” 27:55 But they’re not quick enough. They get caught by the foreman’s men, but then the rescue teams arrive and we’re in a shootout! The MACOs are rocking it! They’re on target, resilient and relentless! “Nice shot.” 30:55 They make pretty short work out of the miners, but as they’re loading into the shuttle, Xindi guy takes a shot to the back. They load him up as they make their escape. They dock on Enterprise, and warp away before the other ships can get to them!
Phlox tries to treat Xindi guy, but “I’m terribly sorry, Captain, there was nothing I could do.” 33:25 Before he died, though, he dictated the coordinates to the homeworld to Phlox. And they’re off!
On the way, Phlox gives Trip a placebo sedative and sends him to T’Pol. She’s wearing a silky nighty and offers to help him sleep, “You’re having trouble sleeping as well?” 35:47 She shares her struggles and asks him to help her with her neuro-pressure therapy. She uses this as a way to get him to try it as well, “It would be only fair for me to return the favor.” 37:35 She then explains that Vulcan neuro-pressure could help him and kind of pressure him into trying it out. It works and…it works!
The Enterprise arrives at the homeworld and, “I’m not detecting any planets, inhabited or otherwise.” 39:33 There’s nothing there but a huge debris field “It was a planet.” 39:58 After all this, they have almost nothing more than they did at the beginning of the episode. They decide to head deeper into the Expanse.
The Xindi Council assumes they are a scout vessel, the vanguard of an invasion force but they can’t agree how to proceed. The fly dude says they need to focus on finishing the weapon and that’s all that matters.
So, basically nothing happened in this episode, but we learned some things. There are 5 species of Xindi, they don’t work well together and they think Earth is coming to invade them. We also get to see the MACOs in action. But other than that, nothing really changed between minute 0 and minute 44 in this one. These were the early days of serialized TV, and like Babylon 5, it looks like this story is going to take some time to set the table.
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So, turns out I was wrong about the new theme music. If this episode is any indication, this series is going to be far from bright and cheerful. In fact, overall, this was one of the darker episodes of Star Trek up to this point. Like, think about it. They’re scraping platinum off their equipment just to try and talk to someone that maybe could sort of point them in the right direction. And after all that, including a big ‘ol firefight, all they find is Alderaan. The action plan from here? Keep looking.
So, disappointing for the crew, and not a lot of forward progress for us as the viewers. But, we got a solid taste of the tone of the season and the new players. I like how they introduced the MACOs and the way they showed the Xindi Council. The episode opened with them but we didn’t really know who they were until the end. That was well done.
But the story in this one…well, meh. Go work with a shady mine foreman to get info from one of the workers. I mean, rough stuff, for sure, but not so different from the Voyager two-parter Workforce which aired just two years before this episode did. One big difference between these two, though, is the Voyager crew didn’t have to wade through RAW SEWAGE! Like, they used colors and stuff to make that a little easier to watch, but when they’re climbing up the big plasma conduit, and sewage is literally dripping off of them and on to each other?!? So gross!!
I want to talk about some of the guest stars they had in this episode. They were awesome! The foreman was played by Stephen McHattie. You might remember him as the psychiatrist, Dr Reston on Seinfeld, or, maybe more likely, as Senator Vreenak from Deep Space 9’s masterpiece, In The Pale Moonlight.
Richard Lineback played the Xindi miner guy, Kessick. He was incredible in the role, I totally believed he would do anything to escape that hell. But you might remember Lineback as one of the addicts from the infamous TNG episode, Symbiosis. Where he was also super believable.
But, can we talk about the T’Pol and Tucker stuff? First, I’m cool with the concept of Vulcan neuro-pressure. I mean, we have acupuncture, cupping, dry-needling, acu-pressure and other medical practices that are kind of similar to this. I even liked the way Phlox kind of manipulated T’Pol and Trip to make it happen, which I’ll talk about more in the command codes section. It reminded me of convincing someone to try acupuncture or something like that when they don’t think it will work.
But, I mean, did they have to sex it all up? “Disrobe.” 37:38 They outright call themselves out on this and say it isn’t sexual, so why do we get a whole scene with T’Pol taking her top off and covering herself up? Like, I get it, they were trying to make this show more, um, appealing, to a male demographic, but this was pretty ridiculous.
Like most serialized shows, it’s hard to judge any one episode on its own, especially one that is really meant to introduce us to the new rules and world. But as far as that goes, this one was pretty good. I’m pretty sure I understand just how high the stakes are for the Enterprise now.
Do you remember the 15th episode of this podcast? It’s the one where we watched Enterprise Marauders. Dude, Captain Archer was awesome in that one! It was from early in the show’s second season and he was doing everything right. Well…that’s not the Archer we get in this one. But, as he often does, his actions how us how not to do a thing, so I’m going to talk about how to be sure your team understands its role and the importance of its mission even when you feel you shouldn’t have to.
But that’s not all! I’m going to dive into the conflict between Malcom Reed and Major Hayes and examine how damaging it can be when you assume the worst in others. And, before that, let’s look at how Phlox, um, persuaded, yeah, persuaded, both T’Pol and Trip Tucker to do the thing that would best help Trip and the ship as a whole.
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Trip is in a bad way, and understandably! His sister was killed in the Xindi attack and he’s having nightmares that keep him from sleeping. As you can probably relate, when you’re not sleeping well, you’re probably not performing well either, especially after a long time. And when your job is Chief Engineer of a top-of-the-line starship, if you’re not performing well, 80 some-odd lives could end in a horrifying and fiery manner.
Phlox, because he is a medical expert and very good at what he does, knows what Trip needs to finally get some sleep, but he can’t give this thing to him. T’Pol is the only person on board that is qualified to help. Oh yeah, and Trip has said he’s not interested.
So, what do you do? Well, Phlox leaned on his relationships and his expertise to, well, let’s just call it what it is, to manipulate the situation so Trip would get what he needed.
He was able to explain to T’Pol why, logically, it made sense for Trip to receive Vulcan neuro-pressure and why she was the one who needed to administer it, but also why she needed to be the one to convince him of it. Then he sets up the situation, “Perhaps if he goes to your quarters you can convince him.” 9:46 He knows that, in a medical setting, talking to a medical professional, Trip is just going to want the quick and easy fix: a sedative or something like that. But those haven’t been effective, so Phlox has to shift his thinking, and he has to use another voice to do it.
You’ve experienced this before. You’ve explained something to someone or come to an agreement, but they either don’t do it, don’t want to do it or don’t understand it. Then someone else comes along, says the same thing you said, and it clicks for them. Right – we’ve both had this happen before. Well, that’s not because you messed something up or failed. No, it’s because the messenger matters. Sometimes you can anticipate this. You know the person, you know what has to be communicated and you can match the deliverer of the message to make it all jive. But sometimes, it just doesn’t make sense. Like, why wouldn’t you listen to your doctor when they’re giving you medical advice?
Oof…that one hits a little close to home, at least at the time of this recording.
But, this guy is the expert! Phlox knows all the stuff! Why wouldn’t you listen to him? Well, Phlox doesn’t care that he won’t listen, he just wants to help Trip be healthy. So he leans on a colleague to deliver the news.
The important things for you to hear here are that he didn’t care if Trip heard him or not, he cared that he got the message, so he had someone else deliver it. No ego attached, just looking for the best result.
And then it all fell into place. “I gotta have something stronger. Come by around 2200.” 15:31 Trip knows the sedatives aren’t enough but he’s willing to try something different, as long as it’s another sedative. Phlox sees this as his opportunity. When Trip comes back, he gives him a placebo and then asks, “If you wouldn’t mind, commander, will you take this to T’Pol?” 34:36 to set up the meeting with T’Pol.
When you have to do the right thing for someone, you use all the tools available to you. I really appreciated how open and willing Phlox was to hand this off to T’Pol. All he cared about was the best outcome for his patient. As a leader, this is the mindset you need to use when working with your team. It’s not about your way – it’s about the best outcome.
And talking about letting ego get in the way, wow, Malcolm Reed is kind of out of control in this one! First, T’Pol just dumps an impossible mission in his lap, “I want you to come up with a plan in an hour.” 21:37 And that’s it! That’s all she tells him. Archer and Trip are trapped in the mines, go save him!
Two pieces of important information here. First, in the last Enterprise episode, The Expanse, Archer requested, and received, a group of MACOs, basically marines, to handle the unpredictable combat situations they expect to encounter. Second, Reed’s job on the Enterprise is armory officer, or tactical officer. His job is to protect the ship. So, what we’re faced with is a potentially hostile extraction job, on the planet’s surface, with the impending threat of enemy ships heading directly towards them.
Reed argues with Major Hayes, the head of the MACOs about how to go about the mission. T’Pol steps in and Reed says, “The Major here thinks the MACOs should go. It’s a simple question of priorities.” 23:30 But T’Pol agrees with Hayes. The MACOs were literally brought on board for missions like this! This is what they do! But Reed wouldn’t look at it that way. No, he saw this as a personal attack. Hayes tried to soften the blow by saying Reed and his team were necessary to protect the Enterprise if the enemy ships showed up, which is true, but the simple, honest truth is that his team, the MACOs, are better qualified for this job. “That had nothing to do with who knows Enterprise, it was who could do a better job.” 24:24 Um…yes!!! Yes, it should always be about who can do a better job, or who stands to develop the most, or whatever the goal or mission is. In this case, it’s high stakes stuff with the captain and engineer’s lives on the line. Yeah, you send the best people for the job.
Reed comes at this assuming the worst. He thinks Hayes is making a power play and trying to make him, and his team, look less important and capable than the MACOs. But that’s ridiculous. And even he sees how wrong he is. Near the end of the episode, he’s talking to Trip, “Nothing your guys couldn’t handle. I’m not so sure about that.” 34:16 It’s just a little blip, but he sees that the MACOs are competent and were the right choice for this mission.
Now, let’s imagine what this would have looked like if Reed assumed positive intent instead. He would have broken down the mission to Hayes who would have said his team was specially trained for this kind of operation. Reed would have been excited that there were people on board that could help save Archer and Trip and then the discussion would have shifted to how they could best coordinate between the ground and the ship.
So simple! And no hurt feelings. Reed could have even asked to join them, or send some of his team, to see them in action and learn from them. They get the right outcome, learn along the way, and develop a relationship based on professional respect. And it all starts with how Reed chose to show up in that conversation.
He chose to come from a scarcity mindset, to be threatened by the MACOs. All this does is breed distrust and unhealthy competition. Like, part of me wishes that something would have gone wrong on the mission because he insisted on leading the team. Like, a 45-second back and forth where he and a MACO argue over something, he flexes his authority and the MACO gets shot or something. Nothing fatal, but just something to show that he was out of his depth on this one. Still, even without that, he saw them in action and saw how good they were.
What are you doing, or what is your team doing, where you are coming from a scarcity mindset and assuming the worst? What is an activity, or a task, or a project where you could flip that and assume positive intent? When you assume positive intent, a lot of things happen. First, you expect good things to happen. You are able to start from a place of trust. It also gives you language that can transform potential conflicts.
If someone comes at you with something that feels like an attack, or like they are avoiding accountability, without the assumption of positive intent, you may respond like Reed did; not to the core message, but to the perceived threat or lack of performance. ‘Dude, what are you saying? Of course I did this thing, what did you do?’ But when assuming positive intent ,you can reframe the situation. ‘If I assume you have positive intent here, then I hear you saying this thing about the thing we’re working on.’ See what I mean? Reed, who assumed the worst, argued about who should go on the mission, just like this example, where assuming the worst focuses on the conflict or perceived problem. Assuming positive intent puts the focus on the task at hand. For Reed, it would have focused both him and Hayes on the rescue operation.
One episode, and two examples where setting your ego aside can have benefits for the entire team. Hmm, maybe there’s something to this. Phlox was able to connect T’Pol and Trip and set Trip on a journey to better sleep, and Reed could have better executed a mission and built a relationship with Major Hayes had he, like Phlox, not cared about who did the thing, but instead set his ego aside and just focused on the best way to do the thing.
And, yes, this is an episode of Enterprise, so we are bombarded with examples of not the best way to do things. And, yes, I am looking right at Captain Archer.
In the beginning of the episode, there’s a scene that I think was meant to show us the new command center on the ship, but also to show how desperate they are when it comes to finding any info at all. Archer and Reed are talking about the mine they’re approaching and how to go about it. Malcolm wants to be cautious, they don’t have a lot of info and what they do have is questionable, at best. Archer doesn’t skip a beat, “Where are, Malcolm?” <<PULL WHOLE SECTION>> 4:25 So, right off the bat, he’s being demeaning and patronizing. “Why is that, Malcom?” Like, who wants to be talked to like this? Ever?? Oh, and it goes on! “What data do we have? What pieces of the puzzle? None!” This is always a good indicator that you have crossed into jerk territory. When you are asking questions that you answer, in rapid succession like this. Yeah, time to pump the brakes. And the garbage icing on this sewage cake, “Understood?” as he walks through the door, not even giving Reed a chance to answer.
Look, I want to be clear here. You should never, never speak to another person like this. Ever. Like, there are parenting experts out there that would tell you not to even talk to your kids like this. It’s demeaning, patronizing and disrespectful. This is the personification of top-down, authoritative leadership. And yes, I used air quotes when I said leadership.
But, here’s the thing. We’ve all been where Archer is. They’ve been here, in the Delphic Expanse, for 6 weeks hunting down the harbinger of humanity. Ooh, that sounds kinda cool. Harbinger of humanity. But, like, the stakes are literally the planet Earth and all humans. I have got to believe that the last month and a half has been full of Archer reminding everyone of these stakes. But here’s Malcolm, saying they should move slow and steady. Archer’s thinking, what do I have to do to get through to this guy?
I’ve been here before. You’ve been here before! We’ve been talking about this sale for weeks! And now you’re asking about the deal registration? The only thing out of my mouth for the last 3 years has been inclusive and welcoming culture and you’re asking about providing an accommodation?? I mean to us, to the deliverer of the messages, this is so crystal clear. So why are we here now?
Some of the problem is mechanical. Like, maybe you have been too high level in your messaging. Culture-based messages are often too ethereal to wrap your mind around operationally. If I say, ‘I want every person that works here to feel like they are wanted and they belong,’ that sure sounds nice. But if I’m the direct supervisor, on the floor or on the line, what does that mean? What does that look like? So, what I, as the leader, may perceive as the person not getting the message could very easily be me not actually delivering the message as specifically as I need to.
A lot of it is often that the messaging is just words. Like, you’re saying all the right things but there aren’t any changes in responsibilities or operations. On the Enterprise, for example, if Archer is talking Xindi this and Xindi that all the time, but for Reed and everyone else their day-to-day is the same, well, the message is just words.
I worked for a large organization that had an awesome culture initiative. It focused on all the right things: prioritizing self-care, acknowledging that we, as people, had real and tangible value. Really awesome and cool stuff like that. They put together a great logo and even had some engaging powerpoint decks to talk about the culture. They even assigned people to travel across the organization and personally train people on what the culture looked like. But, nothing else changed. Managers weren’t held accountable to promoting the culture. There were no structures to give people the time to exercise self-care or the things the culture talked about. Heck, HR straight up blocked personnel initiatives that promoted the culture. I knew that this beautifully crafted and communicated dream, because that all it was, a dream, but I knew it was a flop when I wrote a Rule in my email to put emails about the culture into a separate folder. All talk, no action.
So, for you, the first things you need to do are shore up these pieces. Be specific in your messaging; paint the picture of what things will look like when the task is done, or the project complete, or the mission is accomplished, and what it physically looks like. I’ve talked on this podcast a couple of times about what I consider to be the biggest measure of success when it comes to people. It’s not metrics or KPIs or something that fits on a spreadsheet or slide deck. No, it’s physically observing the impact. Walking into a workspace, or joining an online meeting and observing and experiencing things. Want an inclusive workplace? Don’t just measure your diversity metrics, observe how people interact! Want to increase sales? Don’t just look at forecasts and trend reports, listen to the words your AEs are using when they talk about customers and potential sales.
So, specific, observable and actionable messaging. And then be sure there are tangible, operational impacts, possibly changes, due to your messaging. When people are doing what they have been hearing about, it all sets in.
But even with that, you’ll have your situations like Reed has here, where they’re just not getting it. Everything Archer did here was wrong. And if you disagree with me, and think he was on point here, please help me understand why. Hit me on twitter, @SFLApodcast and help me understand why Archer was correct to treat Reed the way he did.
What should have happened here was this. ‘I think we should be cautious.’ ‘Malcolm, listen, can we talk for a second here? What have I been talking about for the last 6 weeks?’ ‘That all of humanity is at stake here.’ ‘That’s right. Can you help me to understand how being cautious is going to help us save Earth?’
Pull him aside, have a conversation, ask questions and wait for answers! I mean, as the episode shows us, some precautionary measure could have been a good thing. This would have given Malcolm a chance to show why his suggestion actually aligned with what Archer had been saying while it also reinforces what Archer has been saying.
It reminds me of a situation I had with another manager once. They were struggling with a member of their team and their workload. I talk a lot in meetings about capacity and how to handle workload. In fact, I have a pretty simple guiding philosophy: we can all do exactly what we can do. Sometimes we can do a little more, sometimes a little less. So when the workload is more than our capacity, it’s no up to us to break our back to bridge the gap. No, it’s up to us to show the gap so it can be solved.
So in this case, the manager was talking to me about the struggle and was looking for help in supporting their team member. After hearing what they had to say, I asked, ‘what do you think I’m going to say?’ And they nailed it! They knew exactly what I was going to say, but they needed some validation on that before moving forward, which is totally cool.
So be specific in your messaging, make it real and as hands-on as possible for people, and always take the time to reinforce the messaging when it appears people are deviating from it.
I’m excited to share some more reviews that came through!
BillTrek, on Apple Podcasts, left a 5 star review and says, As a Trekkie, I love the episode recaps and insights. As a manager, I love the leadership tips and ideas Jeff explores. Add the extra benefits of humor and personal stories, makes this podcast a must listen.
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Thanks, Vinnie…and Q…
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You can tag me on twitter, Twitter: @ SFLA podcast and most other social media @jefftakin Jeff, t as in Trellium-D, a k i n.
Computer, what are we going to watch next time….
The 20th episode of the 6th season of Voyager, Good Shepherd. I don’t remember a lot about this one, but if I do remember it correctly, Janeway takes some crew under her wing to help mentor and development them. Sounds like an episode custom built for the Starfleet Leadership Academy!
Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!