Uhura takes command. We examine duty as a leader.
On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek TAS, The Lorelei Signal (Season 1, Episode 4). He will examine the leadership approaches of Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhura.
It's our first episode of Star Trek The Animated Series. In this episode Uhura takes command and Jeff looks at how to develop your personal mission statement so you can determine what your duty is. He also talks about how to follow Uhura's example as a problem solver.
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Welcome! Thanks for joining me today. The Red Squad recruitment drive is almost over. If you haven’t subscribed to the Patreon, or upgraded your subscription, now is the time to do it. Click the link in the show notes right away. All new and upgrading members will be invited to a live Ask Me Anything Meet ‘n Greet. Go ahead, I’ll standby while you click the link and subscribe. Awesome, welcome to Red Squad!
Has anyone ever told you that it’s your duty to do something? What does that even mean? I’m going to talk about what duty is and how you can determine what your duty actually is. I’m also going to share the singular hack that will allow you to solve most any problem you come across at work, and I’m going to do that by breaking down how Lieutenant Uhura does exactly that in the 4th episode of the 1st season of Star Trek The Animated Series, The Lorelei Signal.
The Enterprise is heading to a sector of space where ships have been disappearing. After collaborating with the Klingons and Romulans, they’ve timed it down to the second when ships go missing. “We have 20 seconds to go.” 1:41
They hear a sound, almost like singing, come over the comms. They head to a planet in the Taurean System. The men on the ship seem drawn to the singing. “It seems to be calling us.” 2:55 but the women are unaffected. Uhura notes it and Nurse Chapel validates it. The men are affected, and are even having visions, but the women just hear the singing.
Despite this, when they reach the planet, they leave Scotty in command while Kirk, Spock, McCoy and other men beam down to investigate. After they leave, Uhura notices that Spock was reading his instruments wrong; that he was hallucinating readings. “These figures just don’t match up with Spock’s.” 5:38
On the planet, the men end up in a structure. Inside, they are greeted by a large group of women “I am Theela” 6:47 that all look nearly identical. They know the team’s names and lots of details about them. They have a tool called the Opto-Aud that can, apparently, see all. They have a feast and party to celebrate the Enterprise’s arrival. After awhile, they begin to pass out. “Probably that nectar.” 8:53 As they’re dragged away to rest, Theela sheds a tear. They wake up wearing some weird head bands and looking like they’ve aged 40 years.
On the ship, Uhura and Chapel are learning more about the signal. It’s ultimately lethal to men! So Uhura begins to take charge “I want an all woman security team on the transporter pad.” 10:07 She even relieves Scotty from his post and assumes command herself.
Kirk is reminded that he has duties and this brings him a little lucidity. He and the landing party try to escape, but they are too weak. They are locked back in their room but are able to pick the lock and escape. The chase is on! <music> 13:10 They end up hiding in a huge cistern but because they are so weak, they are trapped inside of it. They discuss what has happened and Spock figures out that the headbands are draining their life force and transferring it to the women. All the men on the ship are in danger. With a lot of help, they are able to get Spock out of the cistern. He uses the Opto-Aud to locate their equipment and updates Uhura on everything that has happened.
The all woman security teams beam down to the planet. Theela tells them to take a hike but Uhura isn’t backing down! “Until we find Captain Kirk, we will not leave!” 16:44 and she starts blasting! They stun the captors and start searching for the men. They find Spock and get him back to the ship but can’t find the others. Theela finally comes clean and explains what’s happening. They came to this planet long ago not knowing that it drains the life force from the men. As they learned that, they also found out that women gained new powers of influence. The catch is that they have recharge every 27 years by draining the life from other men.
They find the rest of the landing party and free them from the cistern. They get them back to the ship but aren’t sure how to save them; they’re close to death. Nothing that Nurse Chapel tries is working. Spock has an idea “Perhaps the transporter is the key.” 21:06 They’re going to use the pattern buffers to try to reconcile their current state with their pattern when they first beamed down to the planet. This is super risky, “They’ll scatter all over space.” 21:51 but if they don’t do anything, they’ll die anyway, so they go for it.
It’s touch-and-go for a minute, but it works!! On the planet, Theela destroys the Opto-Aud and Uhura says an all female ship will be by to pick them up and take them to a suitable planet where they should be able to return to normal. They’re thankful, “Oh it is much better than immortality.” 22:52 and the Enterprise takes off, on to another adventure!
Our first Animated Series episode! What did you think? I’d be lying if I said I was team TAS from the beginning, but it has grown on me. As the series that was meant to continue the 5-year journey of the Enterprise, it does a pretty great job. But what about this one? Is this one just a corny, low-budget cartoon, or does it stack up with the, well, kinda corny, not as low-budget as you’d think Original Series episodes?
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The Animated Series, each episode starts strong. I mean, this theme is fantastic 0:33 What a fun take on a classic!
Sci fi is awesome because you can tell stories about society and humanity that you can’t really tell otherwise. I talk about a lot of these in the Starfleet Leadership Academy episode with Eliza Van Cort. But of you add animation to sci fi, you can get away with even more. Gene Rodenberry started writing a version of this episode for the Original Series, but it didn’t get the green light. Make it a cartoon, and now it’s totally cool to let a woman of color take command of the Enterprise.
The story is solid and is told pretty well. I feel like it was missing quite a bit, though. At the end, Theela destroys the Opto-Aud and starts talking about an agreement that was made. What agreement? Oh, this one that Uhura is just now filling some of the blanks on. But the most distracting part of this episode, where I have to believe that they accidentally dropped a few feet of film on the floor, is when Theela is trying to explain everything to Uhura. “To survive, we revitalize. We can’t die or age.” 19:33 I mean, which is it??? You have to revitalize or you can’t die? How is it both?
All of the Animated Series episodes have odd pacing and pretty wooden voice acting. That said, Nichelle Nichols was on point! She voices four different characters on this one and was excellent as Uhura. In the commentary track of the DVD release of this, Nichols says she was so excited for the opportunity to take command of the Enterprise. If this had happened, live action, in the Original Series, it may well be held up as high as the interracial kiss she had with Kirk in Plato’s Stepchildren, the very first interracial kiss on television! Having a woman of color in command of the Enterprise wouldn’t have been as big as that, admittedly, but it still would have been huge!
Instead, we get it here. It’s done well, and in a fairly enjoyable episode. As far as the Animated Series goes, this is one that is very much worth watching.
This episode came out in the fall of 1973. The world then was a very different place than it is now. And the timing of the episode is very important. This year saw Watergate happen, the announcement of peace between America and Vietnam, the Endangered Species Act as signed into law in the United States and Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes just 9 days before this episode aired! So seeing a woman of color take command of the USS Enterprise was a really big deal.
But, there’s taking command then there’s leading. Before we look at that, I’m going to talk about the concept of duty and what that means to a leader. And then we’re going look at the ways Uhura demolished stereotypes and led the crew to safety.
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Duty. The word itself conjures up thoughts and images in all of us. When I grew up I was in the Scouts; I had a lot more fun as a cub scout, but I learned a lot through all of my time there. We swore an oath at each meeting to ‘do our duty’ and that’s what comes to mind for me. For others it might make you think of blind adherence to a code, or it may bring up images of heroism.
It, honestly, is a word that is not great for a lot of people and it’s been used to cause real harm.
With that in mind, I want to talk about it in the terms of leadership. Duty is, by definition, an action that is required. It may be required by law, a position, a culture, a religion or many other things. My Dad passed away a few months ago, at the time of this recording, and I was the executor of his estate. I had a duty, because of that position, and the culture of my family, to handle his affairs and see that his wishes were carried out.
As a leader, we have often have duties defined in law. In the United States, for example, if you are in a leadership position and a person brings a harassment or discrimination complaint to you, you are legally obligated to take action. It is your duty to take action.
I would argue that it is also your duty, because of your position as a leader, to advocate for and protect the people you work with. Bottom line, a duty is something you have to do.
Now, you can get really into the weeds with this concept and break out things that are your duty and things that are you obligation. Obligations are things you have to do for legal reasons, or due to custom or things like that and duty is something with an anchor in your conscience or your morality. Taking action on a complaint of discrimination is an obligation while advocating for and protecting the people you work with is a duty.
Or, another way to look at it: duty is what gets me out of bed in the morning while obligation is what they give me money to do – even if it is the right thing to do.
Now I bring all of this up because we see the impact that duty can have on someone in this episode. The men are basically in a trance, it’s a siren’s song that has brought them here and they can barely remember their names. They’re blindly following Theela’s commands because of the spell they’re under. That all changes, though, when Kirk is reminded about his duty to the ship. “Yes, Duties.” 10:27 For Kirk, taking care of the Enterprise and his crew is what gets him out of bed in the morning, it’s what excites him. It’s rooted deeply in who he is and what is important to him.
So when he’s reminded of those duties, it gives him a moment of lucidity. For that moment, he’s able to see through the fog from the siren song and remembers that they’re there to investigate the disappearance of ships and he needs to save his crew.
In the Starfleet Leadership Academy episode TOS: Let the Be Your Last Battlefield I talked about how to develop your personal mission statement. Duty goes deeper than that statement but you have to have that first.
There are some great examples of personal mission statements from famous, successful people. Maya Angelou says hers is, “Not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” Richard Branson’s is, “To have fun in my journey through life and learn from my mistakes.” And Oprah Winfrey, “To be a teacher. And to be known for inspiring my students to be more than they thought they could be.”
One of the reasons these people have been so successful is they live by these mission statements. If they are offered an opportunity that does not line up with their mission, they don’t do it. They say no. But if it does line up with their mission, they can say yes and say yes with enthusiasm. Their mission, and the duty that goes along with it, gets them out of bed, even when there’s hard work in front of them.
So what is your personal mission statement? Do you have one? If you do, I am dying to hear it! You can pop into our discussion group that’s linked in the show notes or tag me on social media, @jefftakin.
If you don’t have one, that’s cool. I’m willing to bet most people don’t. My personal mission statement is to enrich the lives of others through my interactions with them. What you’ll see in mine and the others I shared earlier, is that there isn’t a specific template you have to match. But you will also notice they are fairly broad and don’t go into too many details.
Even though there isn’t a template, you can follow one of these two models to at least help you get started. For the first one, fill in the blanks: My personal mission statement is to use my blank – these are your skills – to blank – outcome – for blank – group of people or whatever you want an impact for. You can drop any of the blanks or even add more, but this will get you started, right? Like, with this, it could be, To use my organizational skills to help provide food to vulnerable people.
Now, that’s great! It makes it clear what you will say no to, and what will get you excited and out of bed every day. But it’s also pretty specific and could be restrictive. That’s why I prefer this second approach.
First, identify what value you can provide the world. Second, identify who you want to provide that value to. Third, identify the core skills you want to use to deliver that value. Finally, cut out any specifics or excessively descriptive words. I’m going to use Oprah’s mission statement for this one. Her mission is to be a teacher. And to be known for inspiring my students to be more than they thought they could be. Value – inspiring. Who – her students. Core skill – teaching. Cutting out specifics – well, that’s invisible here, but she could have said something about her highly motivated students or providing lifelong, impactful inspiration. But she cut it down to the minimum necessary. This step is important because we tend to hung up on adjectives and descriptors that really just distract from the core point.
Now we can dive a lot more deeply into this. If you want more, I recommend listening to the episodes TOS: Let that be your last battlefield and DS9: Playing God.
Now that you have your personal mission statement AND you’ve shared it, you’ll want to identify your duty. For me, it’s those opportunities to actively enrich someone’s life. Those are one-on-one conversations, problem solving and often process improvements. When I have a calendar full of one-on-one’s, I wake up excited and ready to rock. So with your personal mission statement, what are your duties? What will clear the fog of the siren song of Netflix, or TikTok, or, I don’t know…Roblox? Will clear the fog of the siren song distractions in your life?
Star Trek makes this pretty simple, right? Maybe a little too simple in this episode, but that makes it easy to adapt and see yourself in it. While Kirk’s duty has been pretty consistent through all of Star Trek, Uhura’s hasn’t been. But in this episode, we see that her duty is also to the Enterprise and the people serving on board.
And those people are some of the best at what they do. We see this more explicitly in the Next Generation, like in the Starfleet Leadership Academy on TNG: Q Who, where they outright say an assignment to the Enterprise is a big deal. And that has been the case since the beginning. So when things start going south in this one, when the men are clearly the only ones affected by the signal, of course Uhura is right on top of it!
Before the men had even gone onto the planet’s surface, she had noticed that things were not right and had Nurse Chapel confirm that she was seeing what she thought she was seeing. Then she saw that they had been operating off of false sensor readings. So she takes immediate action. “What are you doing? Taking command of this ship.” 10:18
She comes up with a plan and starts executing. She doesn’t check to see if it’s ok or not; she just does it. And once she takes the final step, “I’m taking control of this ship.” 11:37 she focuses all forces on solving the problem. Under her leadership, they figure out how the signal is affecting them men, attempt to find a way to reverse the aging and come in for the rescue. This was the perfect example of what it looks like when you have a team of capable, empowered and enabled people working with you.
Like, there’s a version of this where everything falls apart because no one is able to step up and take charge. They keep looking for validation or approval. Imagine what this episode would have looked like if Uhura and Chapel just sat in sickbay complaining about everything. “Oh…look at Scotty just sitting in the captain’s chair singing.” “Hey, look at me! I’m the science officer and I’m getting fooled by a song.” Whew. There would have been a lot of dead dudes and they never said what happened to the women on the ships that were taken before.
But if we’re being honest, I’ll be that that is exactly what happens in most workplaces. Leadership is either absent or ineffective so people just huddle with the cliques and complain. Enough people start complaining and then management acts, but not to solve the problem. No, now they’re focused on shutting up the complainers.
Uhura doesn’t complain; she takes action and she does it right away. Now, there can be value in complaining. It can feel good. And, if someone hears you, like listens to you, it can either validate your feelings or help you see things differently. But I’ve tried to live by a rule. And that rule is that you get to complain once. After that you either do something about it, or you accept it. It’s a pretty powerful rule to live by.
In past episodes of the podcast, like TOS: The Omega Glory, I’ve talked about Kirk’s skill as a manager. He’s great, and Uhura proves that here. He has created a culture where people are able to solve problems as they see them, even if that means relieving the senior officer of command and taking over yourself.
You build that culture in a lot of ways, but I’m going to talk about three of them. First, you build trust. Second, you develop capability. And third, you are crystal clear about the mission and the expectations around it.
From Uhura’s actions we see that there is real trust between the member of the crew. Chapel doesn’t question Uhura, she supports her. When she calls for an all-woman security team, she gets an all-woman security team; she doesn’t have to stop and explain herself time and again. When she relieves Scotty, he’s cool.
We see her capabilities. She reads and interprets sensor logs, she executes security protocols and she encourages scientific exploration. And she does all of these things because she understands the mission and the expectations around it.
So, good on Kirk. Fantastic management and culture building. But the real hero here is Uhura. And not just for being the only woman on the bridge when the men started acting weird. She called Nurse Chapel up to basically confirm that she was seeing what she thought she was seeing. Why didn’t Chapel step up and take command? Why didn’t any of the other women? Well, because Uhura is awesome!
Now, yes, there is a line where she says she’s the senior lieutenant, so it’s partially her job to step up, but she could have very easily let someone else step up. But she is demonstrating a leadership mindset here. There is a need and she is going to fill it.
You can do this as well. It is as simple as raising your hand when the opportunity presents itself. And, it’s important to note, the opportunity isn’t always going to be obvious. When there is a need, fill it. And, and the important part, fill it well. Uhura led brilliantly. She saw the need, she raised her hand and filled that need and she did it very well. That’s the same for you. There’s not a great onboarding program where you work, build one! The schedule is confusing and people are missing shifts because of it? Fix it. If it’s impacting you, it’s not someone else’s problem, it's your problem. Don’t wait on someone else because you’ll be waiting a long time. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen ‘someone else’ on anyone’s name badge before; and maybe that’s because they’re so busy solving all the world’s problems. No, it’s up to you. And it’s up to your team.
To put a fine point on it, Uhura stepped up, raised her hand and filled the leadership need. She leaned on the experts to do the skilled work. The scientific work for a cure, the security work on the planet, the tech work on the ship’s shields. So maybe fixing the schedule isn’t your strong suit, but I’ll bet someone knows how to do it, or could figure it out. See the problem, fill the leadership role and help point the right people at the right problems.
So don’t wait for someone else. Don’t sit and complain. Be like Uhura. You be someone else. You can be the person that helps solve the problem.
I was absolutely serious when I said I wanted to hear what your personal mission statement is. If you’re willing, I’d love to hear your process in determining it too. There’s a link in the show notes for our discussion group, that’s a great place to share it. You can also share it on social media!
I’m on Twitter: @ SFLA podcast and you can follow me on all the social media, @jefftakin Jeff, t as in Theela, a k i n.
And, as I said at the top of the episode, there are just a few more days left in the Red Squad recruitment drive. When you subscribe to the Starfleet Leadership Academy Patreon and join Red Squad, you get access to bonus episodes, and depending on what level you join at, you can get some cool merch and even get access directly to me through Starfleet Command. Plus, if you join during the drive, and there are just a few more days to do that, you’ll be invited to a live Ask Me Anything that I’ll host on Zoom.
Computer, what are we going to watch next time….
Oh, this is a big one. To date I think we’ve watched 7 episode of Enterprise, and while some of them have been good episodes, they haven’t really shown us great leadership in action. In fact, so far Archer and Lorca are two that we learn the most from by looking at the opposite of what they do! Well, this episode flips the entire series of Enterprise on its head and sets up some very controversial moments for Captain Archer. Next time, we’ll be watching the second season finale, episode 26 of that season, The Expanse. Yep!! It’s kicking off the Xindi War! I am super excited to watch this one through a leadership lens and there’s no one else I’d rather have with me than you.
So until then, Ex Astris Scientia!