Are we so bad that professional development is a joke?
On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek Lower Decks, Envoys (Season 1, Episode 2). He will examine the leadership approaches of the Command Team of the USS Cerritos, and Ensign Mariner.
Ensign Rutherford is thinking of changing his job. His journey is a such a scathing reflection of our professional cultures - it is actually a joke that his managers are supportive of him! This fun, seemingly light-hearted episode of Lower Decks does an amazing job of demonstrating what a supportive work environment looks like.
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Welcome! Thanks for joining me today. Have you ever been worried or even afraid to tell your boss you’re getting new job? I know I have. In fact, I avoided opportunities because of a toxic work environment before. I’m excited to talk about what you can do to not only make the people you work with feel comfortable doing this, but even doing it in a way that encourages people to try new things out! Let’s do it. This is the second episode of the first season of Lower Decks, Envoys.
Ensign Tendi and Mariner are hanging out when Boimler comes in to share that he just got a cool assignment. “I’m going to be transporting General K’orin to Talgana IV.” 3:00 He’s super excited! Sees this as a huge opportunity. He even practices formal, Klingon greetings, “Nik negh!” 3:40
Ensign Rutherford, with Engineering emerges from a Jeffries tube. He loves being there and is excited for his next assignment that’ll keep him there for a few days, but he plans with Tendi, “I thought we were going to watch the pulsar together.” 4:08 He says that he’s going to quit his job in Engineering and switch divisions so he’ll have more time to spend with his friends. Hmm…seems a little extreme.
Well, speaking of extreme, Boimler is in his formal dress uniform as he reports to the shuttle. And who’s waiting for him? “You got the same assignment as me?” 5:03 Yep. It’s Mariner. And he is beside himself.
In Engineering, Rutherford asks to talk to his boss, Lt Commander Billups. He’s going to ask for a transfer. But before he can ask for that, Billups makes it as hard as possible, “You’re my number one systems guy!” 5:46 But he digs deep and asks anyway. And Billups approves the request. He’s excited for him and wishes him well.
General K’orin gets onto the shuttle, and Mariner attacks!!! “Oooooh!!” 6:46 She kicks him in the face, and he punches her right back! She grabs his knife, his d’k’tahg, wraps around his neck. Just before she cuts his throat, they burst out laughing! Turns out they’re old friends. Boimler is upset as they swap stories, sing and drink blood wine while he pilots the shuttle. K’orin insists they land in the Klingon district instead of the Federation embassy and that’s what they do. Boimler transmits his confirmation codes and they head down.
K’orin is passed out in the shuttle. As Boimler and Mariner get off of it, he wakes up, starts up the shuttle and flies off! “Classic K’orin.” 9:09 Now they’re stranded and have to find him. They bumble around with Boimler following protocol and Mariner playing loose with the rules. It isn’t going well for them.
On the Cerritos, their ship, Rutherford is trying out the command division. The XO, Commander Jack Ransom, is letting him try out a bridge simulation. His job is to get the ship home in the scenario, but immediately everything starts going wrong and he has no idea how to respond! “Collision alert, the kindergarten, it’s gone!” 12:26 Ransom keeps trying with him and it just keeps getting worse.
Boimler is feeling bad. Mariner goes to use the restroom and a woman starts hitting on him. Just as she goes in for the kiss, Mariner hoses it down! It’s not a woman, it’s an anabaj that just wants to lay eggs in his throat. As it runs off, she just insults poor Boimler, “jamaharon, this boy wants Jamaharon!” 13:50
Not jiving with command, Rutherford joins Tendi in sickbay to try his hand at nursing. “Imagine the warp core. I got burned in the warp core!” 14:48 Dr Ta’ana tells him it isn’t a good fit and recommends he tries out security. Fun little fact here, this is now the first time in Star Trek that someone wore all three different color uniforms in one episode.
He joins up with Lt Shaxs, the over-zealous Bajoran security officer. He puts in him in the toughest scenario, “SmorgasBorg.” 15:20 Rutherford uses his eye implant thingy and rocks the Borg!! Shaxs can’t believe it! Says he uses that scenario to see how people handle a no-win scenario, but he aced it. Feeling pretty good, he heads out with Shaxs. Looks like Rutherford is joining security.
Boimler’s by-the-book approach finally blows up when he jumps in to break up what looks like some people mugging an elderly Andorian. But they’re actually trying to stop a Vendorian shape-shifter. The people in the bar get upset, thinking he’s working with the Vendorian and an epic bar fight breaks out! Until Mariner dives in and breaks the whole thing up. Boimler leaves the bar, head down, and questioning his entire career. Mariner catches up to him and says they should get back to finding General K’orin, but, “I don’t even care anymore.” 17:40 He’s upset that she handled herself so well and he keeps blowing it. He thinks that all his studying has been for nothing and decides, “I guess I’m not cut out for Starfleet.” 18:12 No matter what Mariner says, he won’t hear her and just gets more and more upset.
Shaxs is excited about Rutherford and introduces him to the rest of the team. He has a rousing speech and everyone is excited. But while he’s talking, he sees a Jeffries tube and decides that where he wants to be. He tells Shaxs, who is excited that he’s choosing what he really wants. Rutherford heads back towards Engineering.
Boimler has given up so they’re looking for the shuttle K’orn stole so they can back to the Cerritos. On the way, a Ferengi jumps out and suspiciously offers them a ride. Mariner is all about it but Boimler knows this is bad news! “What are you doing?? He’s not Ferengi, he’s a Bolian.” 20:05 He eventually talks her down, and he was right! As they go to leave the Ferengi pulls a knife and drops one of the greatest lines in all of Star Trek! “Give me your profit!” 20:46 They get past him and find the General, passed out drunk. They dump him on the porch of the Federation Embassy and fly back to the ship.
On the ship, Boimler is telling everyone about how he sniffed out the Ferengi, totally glossing over his day of epic fails. All at the cost of Mariner. And Rutherford and Tendi find a way they can watch the pulsar together anyway. She’ll watch it on a PADD while he’s in the tubes.
Kind of embarrassed by Boimler parading his big win over her, Mariner is in her bunk, alone. She takes a call from a friend of hers…the Ferengi that held them up! “Was I convincing enough? Eh, Hyoo-mon.” 23:01 She set the whole thing up!! She gave a chunk of her dignity to help Boimler feel better about himself. A super cool move, that she shouldn’t have had to make.
This is one of my favorite episodes of Lower Decks! It’s hilarious, has really cool character moments and some invaluable leadership lessons. On top of that, it has Tom Kenny! Yes, Tom Kenny was the Ferengi, Quimp, the Vendorian shape-shifter as well as a few voices in the command simulator. But, maybe more than anything, I love this episode for its homage to speed walking.
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I love the kind of meaningless, cold opens in this series! This one had two really great bits in it. First, Ensigns Mariner and Tendi are hard at work when, “one of those trans dimensional energy creatures” 00:21 show up. Like, how many times did this happen in the original series, and TNG. And DS9…and even Voyager?? These little energy beings were entire plot points. But instead of getting sucked into their games, Mariner just shuts it down. It’s fun because you’ve gotta think that after all these years, centuries even, they’d have a pretty good bead on how to handle beings like this!
And then you know how Picard, despite all the cool stuff he did, kind of set an unfair precedent in Star Trek? With Picard, every Captain had to have their ‘thing’ that they said. Engage, was his thing – or, make it so. But it didn’t end there. No, Jellico had Get It Done, Burnham has, Let’s Fly, Pike has Hit It and I’m sure there are others. But this puts a ton of pressure on captains, I think. Carol Freeman, Captain of the Cerritos is no different. I mean, she’s devoting real time to figuring this thing out. “I’m gonna say something cool when we go to warp. It’s warp time!” 1:16 Hopefully, uh, hopefully she comes up with something a little better than that.
My mother-in-law is a super active person, in fact, I think she used to be a power lifter. But nowadays, she’s all about speed walking. She leads a group in her office and has a personal coach that she works with. It’s great…and it’s hilarious! Like, I’m sure speed-walking is great and all, but when Mariner and Boimler get to the planet, she says what our family has been thinking for years! I am not going to speed walk. You know we’re going the same speed.” 9:46 It’s so true! Now, if you’re a power walker, no offense intended, but, seriously, it’s walking, and walking at about the same speed and distance I walk without a bunch of training and a coach.
But, hey, if it makes you happy, then that’s awesome, right?
This is just the second episode of this series but I love how fully developed everything is; the characters, the interactions, the world. It’s great. But one of the cool things about Lower Decks is that, on a first watch, this is a funny episode. But when you get further along in the series and you realize how subtly and almost subversively it communicates the messages and themes Star Trek always aims for, you watch this episode and see that absolute brilliance behind it.
The first time I watched this episode, I had to pick my jaw up off the ground. I couldn’t believe how blatantly they showed a positive, supportive culture that is focused on the development of every single person on the team. And not only that, but they were able to make it into a punch line because it is so very much the opposite of most organizations today. I’m going to talk about what happened in this episode and the cultural leadership that can make this happen for you and your teams as well.
Because this is Lower Decks, we also get an opportunity to touch on our toxic, dominant culture and how, even in a show that is taking it head on, still uses it for laughs.
But before any of that, I get to hit on the topic I covered in DS9: Playing God; the value of experience over education. But, thanks to a mission gone wrong, we get to see how important they both are and how one doesn’t necessarily replace the other.
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Back in the Starfleet Leadership Academy episode DS9: Playing God, I kind of railed against formal education for leaders and managers. I talked, at length, about how people that want to lead and manage are better served by getting to work, and doing the stuff, rather than sitting in lecture halls and listening to professors talk about the Theory of Constraints or CPV, Customer Perceived Value. And I 100% stand by everything I said in that episode, and not only because it is entirely validated by the series of unfortunate events in this episode
They land on the planet, their shuttle is stolen and they are stranded. Boimler immediately starts applying everything he learned at the Academy, what we would call University, and in his own studies. After getting beaten up by a Taxor and nearly having eggs laid in his throat, he’s upset. He and Mariner talk about it, “You didn’t study them at all. I study by doing.” 12:58 And she is almost 100% correct.
What I want you to hear here is that a formal education is not necessary for you to be successful as a leader. It is necessary if you want to practice medicine, or law, or be an engineer, but if you want to lead people, go lead people! Go experience work cultures and learn by doing.
But the piece that this episode adds, is great, and it’s one I, personally need to work harder to take to heart. And that piece is: education still plays a vital role in successful leadership. Yes, I have learned all about the Theory of Constraints and other process improvement methodologies by doing them. I dug in, did the work, mapped the processes, asked the questions, used the problem-solving tools, rolled up my sleeves and did the stuff…but I also took the time to read the books, like Reaching the Goal by John Arthur Ricketts. I reached out to experts to ask questions and learn from them. Was it a formal education? No. But it was a guided education based on the experiences I had in the workplace.
In the end, it’s the combination of experience and education that make a person effective. Despite Mariner’s cavalier attitude in the episode, it’s important to note that she also went to Starfleet Academy…she also has a formal education. She just chose to expand on it by doing things instead of reading more books, like Boimler did, or by spending more money for a graduate program, that far too many people do.
What I found very interesting in this episode was how Mariner, the one that learns through experience, had to create a scenario that validated Boimler, the one who prizes education and study over experience. “What’s your landing code?” 20:34 In creating this scenario she helped rebuild his confidence, which was a super compassionate thing to do, but she also gave him an opportunity to put his learning into real practice. What she did, was help Boimler to shift his mindset away from closed systems of book-based or study-based education to a mindset of learning in all situations. She helped him to experience how his more formal education could be practically applied.
So if you are a person with more experience and are working with people right out of college or new leaders without experience, it is up to you to create and open situations where they apply their learning to those practical applications. Here, Mariner calls a friend and fabricates a whole situation – I don’t really recommend that. All you have to do is let them dive in; let them participate in tasks that will give them experience, and then let them lead those tasks, and eventually, they’ll be doing the same for the people around them. This not only ensures everyone has the experience necessary to collaborate and add value, but helps create leaders all through your team.
What was even more interesting about this whole thing, though, Mariner creating the scenario, was that she had to create it. Now, again, yes, she was trying to help a friend feel better, but the reality is, it’s not uncommon for someone, especially a woman, to have to go out of their way to help someone else, usually a man, feel better about their shortcomings. This is a part of the toxic, dominant culture most of us work in. In this culture, many claim an unearned right to comfort. Like, just speaking bluntly, without compassion, Boimler was right to feel bad; to feel inadequate. He was unprepared for the situation he was in. Now, someone with an abundance mindset that sees opportunity instead scarcity would have felt what Boimler felt, but then would have been motivated to work to improve themselves. Boimler, though, Boimler decides to quit and become a bug scientist. Because he claims a right to comfort, even when he is objectively in the wrong, Mariner has to step up and help make him feel validated and better about himself.
And here’s the worst part. She does it at her own expense. Even without the part I’m about to talk about, she still had to make herself look incompetent just so Boimler would feel competent. That’s bad enough. But then, even after promising her he’d keep this all a secret, he publicly humiliates her so he can continue to feel better about himself. “You think we can keep this quiet? Sure, we’re in a circle of trust. So, anyway, she says…” 21:53 He not only claims a right to comfort, but blatantly does it at Mariner’s expense and does it by straight up lying to her!
Now this is all terrible, and I’ll share the wildly complex way to avoid this here in a minute, but I have to call the episode out here. The episode plays this off like she’s happy to have given up a piece of her dignity for him. Taking one for the team, you know. But the team is just Bradward Boimler. And even if it was generous and compassionate of her to sit quietly while he insulted her, he told her he wouldn’t do this!! Total jerk move by Boimler here.
But – something many people have experienced in the workplace. A boss or a co-worker taking credit for someone else’s idea and then talking trash about them, even in a joking way, all to help prop them up in the eyes of others is absolutely never, never ok.
Here’s my 2-part methodology for ensuring you don’t claim an unearned right to comfort. Step one: learn and understand that when you make fun of or put someone else down, it does NOT elevate you in the eyes of others. Nope. In fact, it does just the opposite. Step two: don’t be a selfish jerk!
There. Super simple. Right? Well, if it were so simple, this wouldn’t be something I felt I needed to talk about. In the Starfleet Leadership Academy episode VOY: Message in a Bottle I go into detail about mindsets, but the people that behave like Boimler tend to have scarcity and victim-based mindsets instead of abundance and intentional based mindsets. The shift between these is huge!! But making the shift will all but ensure you don’t put the emotional and social burdens on your co-workers to help you feel better about your incompetence.
Now, if you work in an environment where this is the norm, where people are leaning on you to give them their comfort, it might be time to find somewhere else to lend your talents. You might also just be ready for a change, or for that promotion you’ve been working towards. For some people, the biggest hurdle between where they are and where they want to be is their current boss and telling them they’re moving on.
Thinking about this, I actually have a few examples of this exact situation. Wow…I’ve worked for some pretty terrible bosses. Wow. Sorry…just all kind of hit me there. Here’s a quick one that you might relate to.
I had a boss that, time has taught me, was a pretty good person, just a terrible manager. He was very controlling and micromanaged everything. In fact, one of our more controllable expenses was our HVAC; it can be very expensive to heat or cool large spaces, right? Well, he implemented a report that we General Managers needed to send to him every week with the schedules we had programmed into our thermostats. He wanted us to wait until the last possible second to kick them into gear based on their location. So I was in Disneyland, actually in line for Splash Mountain, and my cell phone rings. It’s him. He knows I’m on vacation. One of the assistant managers sent in the report and he had questions. He literally interrupted my vacation to talk about a 7 minute difference in the scheduling. 7 minutes!!
Ugh…sorry, that’s not really relevant to the story. Back to that, for reasons that you can probably pick up on, I was looking for a new job. I had interviewed for my first position in the public sector and the hiring manager called me. She said they were prepared to offer me the job but they needed to talk with my current manager first. You know, that whole reference check thing. I literally got sick to my stomach; I almost threw up. I knew, the second he knew I was even thinking about leaving, he’d make my life a living hell. But I had to do it. I had to make this change. I gave the hiring manager my contact info, and hung up the phone. I sat there, nearly shell-shocked. I took a moment to breathe and then got ready to call my boss to let him know to expect a call. But I didn’t have to. He called me. They beat me to it and called him before I had a chance.
Now the end of the story is awesome. I got out of there and launched a very successful career in the public sector that I am very proud of. But for two weeks, as expected, my life was a wide-awake nightmare. His office was in another state, but he decided to work out of my location for the remainder of my time and through the transition period. Oh, it was rough.
But it ended. And all is good. But the thing that I have learned is that I am kind of an exception. I found it inside myself to suck up those 2 weeks of hell to buy more freedom. A lot of people don’t do that, and they wallow in a job they are overqualified for, and that they don’t want, for far too long.
It’s such a common situation that Rutherford’s entire story in this episode is a riff on that fear of looking to grow. It starts when he goes to his division officer, Billups. He gathers up his courage, walks up to him and asks for a transfer. In the show, the lights dim, the camera changes to show Billups as a villain, and he says, “Are you seriously asking me what I think you’re asking?” 6:00 and then it’s all good! “Oh, man. This is exciting!” He actually celebrates Rutherford’s decision.
Ha ha ha, hilarious…right? Well, it’s so hilarious, they go to the well a second time. This time he has found a place that is excited to have him. Shaxs, the security officer gives an incredible speech about the great work the team does and how great Rutherford will be as a member of the team. But he realizes that his heart is in Engineering; that’s what he really loves. He tells this to Shaxs, and then the lights dim and the camera changes on his face, “Not for me. What???” 19:26 and, again, his decision is celebrated.
Our workplaces are so terrible that it is a joke that there are supportive managers out there! If you watched this episode and laughed at these scenes, just like I did and millions of others did, it’s because it’s so wildly implausible that a boss would be supportive of someone developing in their career that it is a joke and a punch line.
This all goes back to mindset. Too many people have a scarcity mindset. And a really good way to envision the difference between scarcity and abundance is this: you’ve often heard that you have to fight for your piece of the pie, or fight to get as much of the pie as you can? That’s scarcity, there’s only so much pie so I have to be sure I get what I want. Abundance says, let’s work to make the pie bigger so we can all have the perfect piece. When a manager comes from a place of scarcity, they would see Rutherford wanting to leave as them losing a piece of the pie. If that manager comes from a place of abundance, you see Rutherford leaving as an opportunity for him to broaden his skill set and become a more valuable officer, both to the ship and for all of Starfleet.
I tell a story in the episode on Voyager: Homestead about a person I worked with, and despite it hitting our production numbers, I supported him taking a role in a new office. It hurt in the short-term, but we were able to hire someone to fill his role, and, in the longer-term, in his new role with the new skills he developed, he was able to help me and my program through some rough stuff.
So, if we’re being honest, you have people on your team, right now, that want to leave. Hopefully to support their ongoing development. Some of them aren’t telling you. And it’s up to you to create the environment where they feel safe doing this. The way I work to do this is through both one-on-one and group interactions. One-on-one, I straight up ask people to talk about their career goals, and then we check-in on their development. When they feel ready, and I’m comfortable supporting them, I do everything I can to help them find that next role. In a group setting, I publicly celebrate the positive reasons for people leaving. I just, in the last month, had two people leave the team so they could focus on their families and personal lives. With their permission, I celebrated their commitment to what was important to them and wished them well and I did that in a team meeting. Make promoting and even leaving the norm. When you do that, people will be much more comfortable coming to you when they are ready to move on.
We have a few more reviews to share!
Kristime11 says, Super fun way to go deep on leadership lessons and ideas. Not personally a Star Trek fan but show still resonates on deep levels.
Disappointed and Ripped off says, I used to be a star trek fan so I’m loving the application of the theme!
Thank you, Disappointed and Ripped Off! And hopefully, I was able to help you be a little less disappointed.
Wassim F says, This podcast is 100% worth the listen. I wanted to hear some leadership content, little did I know I was going be hooked on Star Trek…thankfully there’s plenty of episodes to carry me through for a while. Can’t wait to use the advice I learned as well as the Star Trek references at my business.
Head over to Apple Podcasts and leave a review so I can read it here as well. I appreciate them very much and they do a lot to help people make that decision to give the show a listen.
And I’m on the social media: @ SFLA podcast on twitter and just about everywhere, @jefftakin Jeff, t as in Tulgana IV, a k i n.
Computer, what are we going to watch next time….
If you remember, a few episodes ago, we watched the season 2 finale of Enterprise that kicked off the Xindi War story arc. From there, I said that any time the random episode generator came up with an episode from Enterprise’s 3rd season, we’d take them in airdate order so the story can make some sense. And that’s what happened! So we’re going to dive right in. The Enterprise has been in the Delphic Expanse for a little over a month, and we’re going to see how things are going in the 1st episode of the 3rd season of Enterprise, The Xindi.
Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!