One of the world's top leadership experts talks about how Star Trek shaped his career
In an exciting departure from my normal format, I had the opportunity to visit with, and learn from, Gordon Tredgold.
Gordon is a highly acclaimed by Inc. 100 as a leadership speaker, an award-winning author, a recognized leadership guru and, most importantly, a Star Trek fan!
Gordon Tredgold is uniquely talented at quickly creating effective plans of action for corporations. He is renowned in the business world for delivering projects well ahead of their deadlines. The most prominent achievement in that realm was delivering a project valued at 30 million dollars in a sixth of the time it was estimated to take. The estimate was 18 months, he did it in 3.
Gordon’s Childhood Growing up, Gordon played rugby and enjoyed doing math. These were big inspirations for him as he progressed through life. Gordon was not a very large boy, and as such he had to rely on his intellect and strategic ability to win rugby matches. He learned that he could rally his teammates around a simple plan, and that as long as they really believed in it, they were successful more often than not. Furthermore, solving complex math problems also requires one to devise a plan and put it into action. So, this is an area where Gordon further sharpened those skills.
Early Career Gordon graduated from Manchester Institute of Science and Technology in 1984 with a bachelor's degree in mathematics. Knowing early on that he was a brilliant strategist, Gordon felt that he could make a name for himself advising companies, particularly, IT companies. He excelled quickly and began taking on more and more complex projects voluntarily.
His Books Gordan is the author of FAST: 4 Principles Every Business Needs to Achieve Success and Drive Results. In this book, he details how he has been successful and what is unique about his approach to problem solving and strategy development. He also wrote _Leadership: It’s a Marathon Not a Sprint: Everything You Need to Know about Sustainable Achievements_where he describes his leadership abilities and details what skills, talents, and qualities are needed for a leader to be effective.
Gordon also gave a TEDx speech at TEDx Belfort. And he did it in French!!
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[00:00:00] Gordon Tredgold: My favorite leadership line is 'make it so'.
[00:00:04] Announcer: Welcome to the Starfleet Leadership Academy. A leadership development podcast told through the lens of Star Trek and now here's your host. Jeff Akin.
[00:00:17] Jeff Akin: Welcome everyone to a special episode of the Starfleet Leadership Academy. We even had Kirk handle the intro there. Thanks Captain. I had the recent opportunity to visit with an amazing person that has developed an impressive reputation as a leader and as someone who well, really someone who just gets stuff done. Gordon Tredgold is renowned for delivering projects ahead of their deadlines, in fact, he delivered a project valued at $30 million in a sixth of the time it was estimated to take, a sixth. Today he and I talk about our mutual love of Star Trek, and then Gordon shares some absolutely incredible lessons in leadership from his decades of experience, his books and his role as a highly sought after speaker. So join me as I share the conversation I had with Gordon and honestly I recommend taking notes, he shares some incredible knowledge.
[00:01:19] Gordon Tredgold: Yeah. I was thinking about innovation and just how I'm in 6th year, so I was 9 or 10 I think when Star Trek started coming out and it was the first scifi for me that was truly innovative because I don't think anybody watched a Buck Rogers and thought yeah, so we'll be on those little things with the sparks coming out the back of it. Whereas with Star Trek it did have that feel of a future technology, rather than just crazy ramblings of the set designers, we tend to think that they had huge budgets, but actually they were just truly innovative working with what they had. I was also a big fan of Dr. Who, I don't know if you saw any of that, but for about seven or eight series any planet they went to was just some quarry in the north of England, why does every planet look like gray slag. It's the only set we've got, get over it, we'll put a few trees and throw a few things and put a filter on it. But other than that, we're good to go. So the reason I mentioned that was from the 6th year is I was born in the 60's and was 9 when it came out and it was jaw dropping, we look back on it now and it's not as good there's some things, but the time it was just, it was out of the world. As I said, it wasn't Buck Rodgers where they just had tights some artificial thing with sparks coming out of the back of it flying along.
[00:03:02] Jeff Akin: Gordon's a little older than I am, and I really appreciate the different perspective he has on the effects and the visual quality of the original series. I remember watching the next generation as a kid and thinking there was no way effects could ever look any better than that, boy was I wrong. Gordon then, talks about his experience working in IT, I think his story starts as a familiar one for many of us, but after this, after he shares his story, he challenges one of my base assumptions about leadership.
[00:03:35] Gordon Tredgold: In IT I spent four years coding, a year in design, two years in test management and then I got accelerated into project management, because I was really good at what I did.
[00:03:45] Jeff Akin: A great resume to kick things off, I dive in with one of my foundational beliefs about leadership, that is that leaders do not need to be experts in the work the people on their team are responsible for, but Gordon pushes back on that assumption and honestly I love where he takes it.
[00:04:02] Gordon Tredgold: I actually have different perspective, but it's rough, it's similar, we have to be smart enough, not necessarily knowledgeable. The reason I say that is because I'm a huge fan of Einstein and his quote of "if you cant explain it to an eight year old, you don't understand it", I'm not eight, explain it to me. Explain it to me in a way that cause I'm smart and I get, I don't have a degree in network, but walk me through it like you would a small child and if you can't do that, you don't understand it. This is one of the things that we have to do is get them to do that and the number of times, I was in Fort worth at the crew rostering system and crew rostering is pretty complicated because you've got the different flights, different crews are going to different direct destinations you can only work so many hours, so its a lot of logistics. It's like trying to keep nine plates spinning at the same time and I said to the guy that was presenting it. Okay, could you explain to me the algorithms a little bit and how you do that and he just said to me, you'd have to have a degree in mathematics to understand that and I was like, wow.
[00:05:15] Jeff Akin: Yeah, that's right, Gordon graduated from the Manchester Institute of Science and Technology in 1984 with a degree in mathematics.
[00:05:25] Gordon Tredgold: I said I have a degree in mathematics, explain it to me and they went I don't understand it and a lot of times we just have to call people on their stuff. If you cant explain it to me how are you going to explain it to your team, who have to do it? If you can explain it to me in terms of I'm going to connect the positive to the negative and the negative to the positive then I'll create a circuit and electricity will flow, okay yeah, I can see that. What happens if we get it wrong? Oh, this happens okay, we don't want to do that and I can add some value and ask questions bring my intellect to a subject I'm not knowledgeable about because you told me what we're going to do. A lot of the times it's like I'm running, there's only two ways to run faster, take longer strides, take more steps per minute that said there's, there is nothing else. So a lot of time, we can be speaking to people who are like super knowledgeable about athletics, nutrition, stretching, but are you taking longer strides or injecting more strides per minute, cause that's it. This is what we need in people that are leading, that inherent level of smart to be able to look at it and go, okay, that's how that's gonna work. That's what I do now, when I was first at university, it was punch cards, there is no way I can keep up with the technology, but what I can do is I can keep up with the concepts of business which is, data it gets captured, it gets manipulated and stalled, and then it gets manipulated and we present it to the person looking at it. So as long as we understand the principles of things, it's pretty easy to do, but because a lot of these people have come out of college, they've got a good degree and they've got intelligence, but they don't have expertise or experience.
[00:07:10] Jeff Akin: After that, we brought the conversation back around to Star Trek and what leadership looks like there. I brought up how Picard asked for opinions from his crew in the recent Starfleet Leadership Academy episode: "On Code of Honor", but Gordon here really dives into a leader's job. Spoiler alert: their job is not to come up with the best answer on their own and that maybe expectedly, then we start off the classic Kirk versus Picard discussion.
[00:07:38] Gordon Tredgold: Deanna: what's the diplomatic option? Wharf: what's the kick-ass option? Do we have any technical options? Could we just run away as well? So you'll get that diversity of options and then he'll pick the best one. It's not a leader's job to come up with the answer, it's a leader's job to select the best of the answers presented and I think this is one of the big differences between Star Trek and Next Generation, Kirk was just like this is what we're going to do, or he'd ask Spock. Whereas, Picards is yeah, I don't know I'm the captain you're the security guy you're the engineer, you tell me. My favorite leadership line is 'make it so', yeah, go do it, you've come up with the answer, go do it. Kirk didn't do that Kirk had that desire to be there. It was a different period where, we all want to be the hero and he was the hero. Picards yeah, I don't need to be the hero I just need it done and that's the leadership style that allows you to go up the ranks because if you have to do everything, there's a limit on what you can do with your hands. Whereas if you just want it done, you can delegate to the world and his brother, you can lead a team of a thousand people and leverage their capability to deliver amazing results.
[00:08:55] Jeff Akin: Seems so simple, right? You have to be able to scale your leadership in order to promote and to take on more responsibility. You have to wonder if Kirk's ultimate failure as an Admiral had something to do with that. See in the films he took the first opportunity to play the heroes role again, he took over command from Decker in the motion picture 'Spock and the Wrath of Khan' be it with Spock's blessing, but still Gordon's point here really resonates for me in terms of Kirk's career.
[00:09:26] Gordon Tredgold: Confidence is crucial and I think everybody had confidence in Kirk to get it resolved, so they would follow him because of that. Whereas Picard, he had the confidence in them, guys I believe in you, so he was pushing that confidence as you got this, let's go do it. Whereas with them, it was okay Kirks got this we'll follow him. I tend to think of that as one is more leading from the front the other is a little bit leading from behind. Yeah, knock yourself out, go do that that will be fine, come back and let me know when it's done. You go over there, get that done when it's done come back, let me know and that's a much more, as I say, it's a much more expansive more important way to have impact, but one of the things about Picard and again, I been old enough to watch it live as it were. The first two or three episodes I hated it, I felt my god, Picard, what a wuss. This ain't gonna work and then about three or four episodes in he just found his feet and was like, you know what yeah, I am in charge and then he had that kind of commanding personality. Whereas with Kirk was a little bit different he was all, from the get-go he had that cult of personality, whereas that Picard getting comfortable with other people being comfortable just took a little bit of time for him to get his feet under the table, as it were, but I think I'm a much better leader because of the style.
[00:10:54] Jeff Akin: Then we really get into the Kirk versus Picard discussion.
[00:10:57] Gordon Tredgold: I think they were both products of their time and I think as well, Kirk, I would say Picard was a more standard kind of leader. Whereas Kirk was a little bit of a rebel, it was like, yeah, I know what they want to do, we ain't doing that, I've got a plan going this way. So he had that Maverick style, he wasn't your classic submarine commander, tell me what we're gonna do and blah, blah, blah. He was pretty much I'll roll, the sleeves up I'll get in, we'll do it a little bit differently we'll bend the rules. I think that is part of what made him attractive as well.
[00:11:34] Jeff Akin: Gordon pivoted quickly into how Kirks style applies to project management. I found this fascinating because the prototypical project manager tends to appear to be like a, just a total by the book kind of person but Gordon's brilliant analysis shows how Kirk's more maverick style actually puts people in a place of problem solving.
[00:11:55] Gordon Tredgold: IBM research on projects that fail 75% of the time people knew day one it was going to fail it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy at some point. Whereas if you follow someone like Kirk, and your thinking I'm not sure this will work, but I know, he's going to bend the rules hes Kobayashi Maru. He doesn't care who he upsets, so you always feel you've got a chance, which one of the things I talk about is that, when you think it's going to fail and you see it failing, you go, I told you and your into the I told you so mode when you think it's going to succeed and it starts failing, you go, what the hell is going on and you step forward into solution mode. I think with Kirk because he has that challenge, I'll break the rules I'll do whatever. When he goes forward, people go forward with him in solution mode. It's a different mentality to Picard, but it's also it's one that works, but I think there becomes a limit of what you can do, Picard can go on and become the Admiral of the Starfleet because he has that, okay its just a bigger group, now tell me what you want to do, now go do it.
[00:13:04] Jeff Akin: How do you grow and promote into that next level though? How does a Picard go on to be Admiral? Gordon wrote a great article about the five stages of leadership, the link is in the show notes but in this next part of the conversation, he walks us through exactly what the stages are and how a leader evolves and grows over time.
[00:13:27] Gordon Tredgold: So I actually created this graphic, but basically it's about five stages of leadership and a lot of people talk about five stages, but they do it in a different way to how I tend to think of it. I tend to think of stage one is when you're the informal leader, so you don't have the position, but you know what I'm going to step up I'm going to support, I'm going to contribute, I'll speak up if I don't agree. Then you've got the expert leader somebody like Scotty who knows so much about engineering he's gotta be in charge of engineering, but then you've got to go to that next level. So there's like the team leader and then there's the expert leader, which is like level three but then to go to that next level, you've got to get outside of your area of expertise. So you've now got to be working with head of engineering, head of weapons, head of diplomacy, and now you've got to be much more engaging and empowering because you want them to do the job. Then that next level is what I call the inspirational leader, where you're actually creating the culture of the organization you are setting the tone, but not necessarily taking the action. So you are setting the direction the tone for the organization this is what were going to be like, but at every single level in that, what got you to level three wont get you to level four, you've got to pivot and then from four to five you've got to figure out how to become inspiring and a lot of times it's about, an expert leader, Scotty, he can get the spanners out and can go down and say, stand back I've got this, but at that next level, you've got to be, it's more hands-off. So you've got to be much more people savvy. You've got to engage and inspire and empower them and have them believe in you in order to go there. Yeah, you're right about the archetype and I think we get to a level, we get comfortable with it and people don't want to give it up.
[00:15:29] Jeff Akin: Fascinating, it makes total sense and it really, really, resonates for me. I think a lot of people place value in their professional identity based on the level they're at. An expert leader for example, feels secure as that expert and to give that up really requires great humility. I asked Gordon about this and how to feel successful as you progress through the stages. He says, it's all about how you measure your success and your value. Really kind of like moving the goalposts.
[00:16:01] Gordon Tredgold: I'm really smart and they have to let go of being the hero and be comfortable in creating more heroes and for alpha males and females, that's a tough gig. Its like Kirk, we need to go down and fight the monster on the planet, I'll do it, no no we've got somebody else, that's what I do, it's who I am. Yeah, we don't need you for this, we've got someone else. It's tough to give it up, we tie our sense of self worth into the role, when that goes then our self-worth goes with it, but we've just got to keep that evolving and moving on up.
[00:16:40] Jeff Akin: He went on to share some of his personal story on his journey, through the stages, evolving from an expert in IT to an expert in leadership.
[00:16:48] Gordon Tredgold: I used to be an expert in IT, now I work in IT. I'm an expert in leadership who happens to work in IT. To be honest, to me what people are doing today is so different from what I did when I was hands-on that they could be building spaceships for all I know, but what I'm good at is creating an environment in which they can be successful. We were talking about agile before one of the things about agile is, one of the reasons agile fails is because agile requires us to give up control to the people, doing the work and say, what do you think, when do you think we'll be done by and we don't want to do that. The people who've made a career of saying it'll be done by Friday or heads will roll and the louder I shout, the more likely, no no.
[00:17:38] Jeff Akin: Whoa, shots fired that's a hot take on agile, keep your cool PM's out there because really can you really disagree with him at all? I love this example. It really highlighted, at least for me that the fear people have in giving up control. It's that fear of giving up power, but as you know if you practice agile, it works. It works if you just trust the experts and allow them to be honest with their timelines, Gordon explains further.
[00:18:09] Gordon Tredgold: When we empower people and we ask them, we get a lot more out of them, but again, it's that move towards servant leadership. Our role is to serve our team, put them into a situation where they can be successful, that's our job. If I tell you're going to get this done by Friday and you don't believe it can be done, then you're not going to accept accountability. Whereas, when I said to him, when can this get done by Tuesday you sure, yeah, now you want it. Now there's a degree of accountability, its your goal, if you're not achieving it now we can have an interesting conversation. Whereas if you don't hit the door that I set, that you said was impossible, or you're just going to tell me, but I told you that was impossible. Yeah, I know, but did you not see me bang the table? Did you not see my cheeks flush? Did you not hear me say, heads will roll.
[00:19:04] Jeff Akin: Heads will roll. Now that's a motivating and effective phrase I've seen used before, how about you? We revisited after this, the topic of servant leadership and how it's about setting goals, providing tools, and then ultimately having your teams back.
[00:19:23] Gordon Tredgold: Now there is another path which is the John F. Kennedy, I know you weren't thinking about this, but by the end of the decade, we're going to put a man on the moon, so what, yeah, I've just moved the goalposts, we've got nine years and I'm going to give you the tools to do it. You got that, path of leadership where we're setting the vision, where we're pushing the envelope on, we're setting it up, but it's about 2%, cause once that goals set, it's now all about prep, planning, execution, confidence building, and empowering the people and then the best way to do that is say, hey what do you need? That is a big part leadership showing the team that you've got their back, the number of times when, you know when bosses said, so what went wrong here? and you just see the boss but he's direct report steps back and says does somebody else want this, that's when you need t o just say, we screwed up, I signed off on it. If your going to hit somebody you hit the next guy down you don't step out of the way, cause if you start doing that with your team they're never gonna step up for you, never in a million years. My boss was a big one for, I know it was not you, I want to know who it was and what we saw was when he got into difficulty no one had his back beneath him, cause we knew he would throw us under the bus. You know what, you're on your own. Whereas when we protected our team, if we were getting into trouble, then they would come on step with us, but it's a reciprocal agreement and it starts with the leader. We define the culture and if the culture is throwing people under the bus then the leaders under the bus.
[00:20:56] Jeff Akin: And let's be real. When has throwing someone under the bus ever actually helped a problem? Yeah, that's not the culture. I aspire to. What I would aspire to though, is a diverse workforce that is welcoming and inclusive to everyone. That's when you can really get the most out of people, when they feel they're free and comfortable bringing their whole and true selves to work and hey, you know whats a great model for what that looks like? Yep, that's right, Star Trek. Now Star Trek is a product of its time. So each series, each iteration moves us closer to the image of that perfect environment but even with that Trek has forged paths very very few others have.
[00:21:43] Gordon Tredgold: It was way ahead of its time for the diversity, you've got Will the young kid in there, you've got the alien, you've got Diana and the doctor at a much, much more diverse and inclusive feel to it as well. How many women were there in Star Trek it was the three, Janice Rand, there was Ahura and then there was, I think there was some woman who was occasionally part of staff lead command. We had the blonde in the short skirt and the head of communication and that was it. In the next one, the doctor is a woman, head of security is a woman, head of diplomacy is a woman and a lot more female characters like Janeway.
[00:22:21] Jeff Akin: Then he hit me with the big question.
[00:22:24] Gordon Tredgold: So what's your favorite episode?
[00:22:25] Jeff Akin: Whoa, there Gordon. I'm the one asking questions here right? Now I had to think about this one for awhile. Really, for me, at least it depends on what day of the week or even what time of day it is but I said that at this moment, right now, when we were talking the "Balance of Terror" from TOS is my favorite. So what's Gordon's favorite episode?
[00:22:46] Gordon Tredgold: "The Trouble with Tribbles" I guess I like a problem, it's just out of control. You turn your back on it for a minute, boom, it needs dealing with.
[00:23:00] Jeff Akin: Honestly, though who doesn't love or at least appreciate the Tribbles episode. Now at this point, I just let Gordon talk what his passion is, what he's working on and how you can learn more about him.
[00:23:11] Gordon Tredgold: My whole passion is about helping and I called in today, actually the leadership quadrant diagram, and you've got people who've got good people skills, bad people skills, good delivery skills, bad delivery skills and we seem to have a lot of people who've got great delivery skills, but they're just assholes, and you can de-asshole somebody, that's a character change a lot of the training, we have tried to do that, but the problem is the people that have those tendencies, either one, they don't have the ability to or they don't want to change. My goal is to help people who have got some good management skills become great leaders. So people that are fundamentally nice, help them deliver, understand what delivery is and so that's what I'm all focused about, just giving people tools, I've written 1500 articles on leadership, so people can go out there and they can find that stuff. I do have a course. I've been doing that. I've got a couple of books I wrote. One's called 'Leadership, its a Marathon not a Sprint' and then the second one is called 'Fast' and 'Fast' is about the four principles every business needs for success. I was a turnaround expert and my job was find out why things are failing and fix it and having done that, I realized there's a lot of commonality to why things are failing. I characterize it as a lack of focus, accountability, simplicity, and transparency and if you fix those four things focus is what, accountability is who, simplicity is how and transparency is how far have we come and how far we need to go and if you fix those four things, then you will not only not be failing but it will help you deliver. So that's a book that I've written and a lot of my coaching and courses take that on and if any of your listeners are interested, we'll give them a link to a free, a PDF download of that management book for the finalist in 2017. People asked me were you not upset that you didn't win it? No, because I beat Alex Ferguson, who was the manager of Manchester United, I got to the final five he didn't, my team hates his team, its a win. Leads 1 Manchester United nil. If people want to find me, I am the only Gordon Tredgold in the world so just pop it into Google and you'll find the website, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook reach out and connect I'm very approachable and I tend to respond to most people that reach out and engage.
[00:25:47] Jeff Akin: The link to that is in the show notes, along with links to Gordon's website and his Twitter. I couldn't let him go without asking about the TEDx talk that he did. He'll tell you the story here but he did it, he did it in French. Why? well listen to find out.
[00:26:02] Gordon Tredgold: I did that TEDx talk in French cause I wanted the challenge and I did this talk on four principles for achieving big results, aim high, start small, and just keep going because the majority of big successes are just an accumulation of small successes. We were talking about football, to get to 35 points, you've got to score seven touchdowns there isn't any 35 point touchdown. Yeah it is a grind its an accumulation, if you can develop persistence it is an absolute talent play. I am not a great writer, but the fact that I've written 1500 articles now gets me recognized as someone who's great at writing a lot.. I get recognized for it, but I wouldn't say I am a great writer I would just say I have been prodigious.
[00:26:57] Announcer: Command code to verify.
[00:26:58] Gordon Tredgold: There was a lot of great and informative stuff in there, gordontredgold.com will get you to his website. That link is also in the show notes. I want to take a minute to talk about the five stages of a leader. He brought up as well as the four things you need to pay attention to in order to effectively deliver.
[00:27:18] Announcer: The star fleet leadership academy is supported by listeners. Just like you, click the link in the show notes to support the ongoing production of this podcast.
[00:27:29] Jeff Akin: If you remember, Gordon talked about the five stages of leadership, informal leader, hands-on leader, expert leader, engaging and enabling leader and influential leader. This is a journey leaders follow that in Star Trek terms takes you from a crew member to a division lead to a department, head to Captain, and then to an Admiral. What I found interesting in his discussion on this is how important it is you change the parameters of your success as you progress. As a division leads say like Rom in DS9.
[00:28:05] Rom: Starting today I'm one of the stations, diagnostic and repair technicians. Junior grade night shift.
[00:28:12] Jeff Akin: You measure your success by how many repairs you finished in a day where Scotty as a department head is likely measuring success based on how many division leads met their goals. As you progress to in an engaging and enabling leader, and finally, an influential leader, you start measuring your success based on how many leaders you're creating. So where do you land on these stages? Where would you like to land? Gordon says the tools that brought you to your current level. Won't be the tools that take you to the next level. So what are you doing to get those tools? To build those skills? Listen to the episode, DS9 Return to Grace, in there I talk about how Ducat dresses for the job he wants. Those same principles apply here. Another great insight Gordon shared was that there are people that are very nice but can't deliver and people that can deliver, but they're total jerks.
[00:29:09] Announcer: Let's drop ranks for a moment. I don't like you and I don't think you're a particularly good First Officer.
[00:29:14] Jeff Akin: He helps bring those two together. So you can lead with kindness and compassion, but also deliver timely and high quality work products. He says, you need to address these four things to actually deliver: focus, accountability, simplicity, and transparency. Focus is what, accountability is who, simplicity is how, and transparency is how far have we come, and how far do we need to go? So examine your tasks through these lenses. What is being done? What is the task, who is responsible for doing it? How are they doing it? And what is their progress? Focusing on these four aspects, we'll bring these two extremes together. Now notice that doing the thing isn't listed in the four to be an effective leader that leads with kindness and also delivers means that you are not the one doing the thing. You're empowering, you're enabling the people to do the thing. Now that's not always easy to accept, but Gordon talked about this earlier in the episode. To scale your leadership to lead at a higher level, you have to be able to engage, enable and influence others to do the work that their expertise allows them to do. A huge thank you to Gordon Tredgold for joining us here. I learned so much from him and I'm so grateful for his time. You can learn more about him at gordontredgold.com and you can follow him on Twitter at yep, you guessed it @gordontredgold and you can follow me too. I'm on Twitter @sflapodcast and you can follow me across all the social media at Jeff T Akin. Jeff T as in Tredgold, A K I N, and join us on Facebook and the Starfleet Leadership Academy Group. We'll be talking about all the takeaways from this discussion. I'm looking forward to seeing you all in our next episode. As we continue to watch Star Trek and discuss the leadership lessons, it offers us. So until then ex astra scientia.