Worf avoids a civil war with an incredible technique you can use as well.
On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek TNG, Rightful Heir (Season 6, Episode 23). He will examine the leadership approaches of Captain Picard and Lt. Worf.
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Jeff shares a technique that Worf uses to bring two opposing groups together. He takes them from a civil war to unity by using language that finds common ground that no one could see before.
Captain Picard gives an almost shocking example of how to meet your team where they are at and to motivate them to do what needs to be accomplished.
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Welcome! Thanks for joining me today. Be sure to pay attention near the end of the podcast. I have an exciting announcement for you.
Star Trek says that Space is the Final Frontier, but is it actually faith? Maybe it is, and that’s what Worf is going to be exploring. In that, I am going to share how to meet people where they are at and share a strategy to bring opposing viewpoints together as we watch the 23rd episode of the 6th season of The Next Generation, Rightful Heir.
It’s shift change on the USS Enterprise and Worf is a no call, no show. Riker and a small team head to his quarters to see what’s up. He’s got a full-on hibachi burning in his quarters! He’s meditating, or some kind of high. Not good. Riker asks him what’s going on but he’s in no shape to respond.
Picard comes in. “On your feet, lieutenant.” 4:00 He makes it clear that his behavior is unacceptable. Worf says he’s feeling lost, empty. He’s questioning his faith in Kahless.
There’s a deeply held belief in Klingon culture that Kahless, who is supposed to be the greatest warrior of them all, is waiting in Stovokor, the Klingon afterlife, until he will one day return and unite all Klingons. To Worf, he is a cultural and religious icon. To other Klingons, like T’Kuvma and Voq in Discovery, he is the ultimate expression of the Klingon faith.
So Worf is having a crisis of faith. Picard approves a leave of absence for Worf to visit the monastery on Boreth to help resolve this crisis. “To Klingons, there is no more sacred place.” 6:55
He arrives and meditates with the monks. Koroth, the high priest of the monastery mentors and supports him. Koroth is very involved in Klingon politics and has openly doubted and opposed the Chancellor of the High Council, Gowron.
After a lot of frustration, Kahless appears to him! But it’s not just a vision of Kahless, it’s actually him! “I see Kahless! You are real. I am Kahless and I have returned.” 11:36 He passes the tests that Koroth poses and they celebrate his return. “Blah blah, Kahless.” 14:27 But Worf, Worf has his doubts. Kahless lets him scan him with his tricorder. If you’re familiar with the Christian faith, this is an almost beat for beat retelling of when Thomas, Doubting Thomas, met the resurrected Jesus who let him touch the wounds from his crucifixion. Unlike Thomas, Worf still just isn’t convinced. In true Klingon fashion, they hash it out in a bat’leth fight <<STAR TREK FIGHT MUSIC>> The battle across the room, smashing tables and rolling around the floor. Pretty evenly matched, Worf is calm, ready to rock, while Kahless appears to be getting winded. He ends the fight, “Haha. Look at us, two warriors locked in battle. We are Klingon!” 18:21 Everyone is on board and excited, but Worf just watches, confused, and still not convinced.
Given the return of a religious icon, the Enterprise is set to go pick him up and host a meeting with Chancellor Gowron. Despite the questions about who, or what Kahless is, Picard insists he is treated as an honored guest just as Gowron will be.
Data approaches Worf to learn more about faith and what it means in this context. He says a thing here that is such an example for the whole world today. “As an android, I cannot understand things where there is no evidence. I would appreciate you helping me understand.” 21:28 Oh! Could you imagine if we, as a society, could talk with each other like this and share differing opinions? Oh, what a wonderful world.
Gowron doesn’t believe Kahless is a divine being. He wants this guy shut down. “The idea of Kahless is strong. Have you ever fought an idea, Picard?” 22:44 He sees him as a threat to his power, and a catalyst for civil war. Gowron has a knife that tradition says has Kahless’s blood on it, so they agree to a genetic comparison test to confirm if he is or isn’t actually Kahless. “The genetic patterns are identical.” 24:20 He’s the real deal!!
Worf visits Kahless to share the news and to celebrate the news. He notes that Kahless doesn’t remember the taste of Klingon drinks and he has no insights into what Stovokor is like. Despite this, Worf has bought into his vision. Gowron tries to convince him this is all a political ploy from Koroth. But Worf is all Kahless now. He rejects Gowron and makes a final effort to convince him that Kahless should be followed and revered.
Gowron visits Kahless who shares a parable to the people gathered. Everyone is impressed, but Gowron pushes back, “What was his name? The man you talked to?” 30:12 and Kahless doesn’t have an answer; says he doesn’t remember, so Gowron attacks <<STAR TREK FIGHT MUSIC>>. It’s the Chancellor vs the greatest Klingon warrior that has ever lived! But after a violent battle, Gowron wins and it’s only Worf’s hand that stops him from killing Kahless. He leaves, laughing, and victorious. This changes Worf’s entire view, “Gowron was right.” 32:53 He pieces it all together; he has no memories and cannot fight as he should. Koroth comes clean, in front of Kahless and Worf. They cloned Kahless; he is a clone! “You are a copy, a fraud!” 34:05 The actor here is awesome, Kevin Conway, Through the makeup and with his eyes, he’s really selling how lost, confused and disappointed Kahless is right now.
After thinking on everything and talking with Data, Worf sees an opportunity. He believes the idea of Kahless has real power. He makes a bold proposal. “Kahless can be that leader. As Emperor.” 39:57 Basically a figurehead, political power stays with the Council and the Chancellor, but he can be an image, an ideal. There’s a lot of debate between Gowron, Worf and Koroth, but Kahless accepts it, and eventually, so does everyone else. “Join with me, Gowron.” 41:52 And the Empire has an Emperor once again!
If you are not a fan of the Worf and Klingon storylines in Star Trek, this is not the episode for you. But if you are, you’re going to love it. Me, I’m kind of in the middle on them, but I really enjoyed this one. Some severe over-acting makes this one more fun than it probably should be, but it has a very serious theme and is doing what Star Trek does when it’s at its best: asking really challenging questions that don’t have a clean answer.
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There’s a version of this podcast where we contemplate the deep questions this episode poses about religion. “In the absence of empirical data, how do you know? It is a matter of faith.” 21:11 But, this isn’t the Starfleet Ecumenical Academy. But it does pose one, powerful question that is mirrored, in my opinion, by the Tony Award winning musical, the Book of Mormon. In a roundabout way the musical, and this episode both mock religion and hold it in high regard. In the musical, the Missionaries, Elder Price and, more importantly, Elder Cunningham are not prepared for what they face in Uganda. So they do what any enterprising 18-year old would. They make stuff up! Which is kind of what Koroth and the priests and clerics do. They’re waiting for Kahless to return and get impatient so they just make him up. But, in both cases, things start to get better; people start doing good things. So the question becomes, even if what people believe is complete nonsense, if it compels them to do good things, does it really matter?
Like I said, this isn’t an examination of faith or religion, so consider this a bonus question to consider.
If you’ve followed Worf’s story, this episode totally makes sense. Like, there is nothing in the world he wants more than to be, what he thinks, is the perfect Klingon. In a recent two-parter in the show he has an opportunity to meet some Klingons that have been cutoff from the rest of the galaxy. “While I was there I taught them of their culture.” 4:38 When he meets Kahless, he sees this as his opportunity to really be Klingon, and it’s great. This lines up with everything we’ve learned about Worf. It’s super cool.
One scene, at the beginning, that I just loved. Riker and Data are wondering where Worf is at shift change “Isn’t Worf supposed to relieve Ensign Tarrigan?” 0:39 While they’re talking about this, the ensign dude is just glaring at them in the background, and he’s centered perfectly on screen! He’s like, I know you’re talking about me, and I know you’re about to ask me to stay late.
This episode has impacts into Deep Space 9 and the Klingon arcs that happen there, but nothing too huge. In a cool nod to continuity, in the 2nd season Discovery episode, Through the Valley of Shadows, Captain Pike visits the monastery on Boreth as well. That episode happens about 103 years before this one, so I thought that was a cool connection.
Like I said earlier, if you’re into the Klingons on Star Trek or even just Worf’s story, this is an essential episode. But if you’re not into them but you’re into what Star Trek is all about, this is still incredible. Personally, I am a person of faith. That colors much of my world and my lived experience, but even as a person of faith, this episode caused me to ask some real questions and challenge my beliefs. Really well done.
In an episode that focuses on religion and faith, there are two, really big leadership lessons we’re going to dive into. Picard appears very briefly in this episode, but when he does, he puts on a master class in meeting people where they are at. We see a militaristic side of him that is the perfect thing at the perfect time.
We also learn a difficult lesson from Worf. He’s caught in the middle of two seemingly opposed viewpoints, but he helps the people holding those views see the bigger picture and where they actually want the same things. Worf is going to show us how to connect the unconnectable.
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The Starfleet Leadership Academy is all about helping you learn about leadership and this episode totally does that, but it also very explicitly says what some people still think leadership is, “A leader doesn’t need to answer questions, just give orders.” 17:13 Wow!! Kahless, no! That has never been leadership but even more so now. Yikes. Please, do not listen to Kahless on how to best present yourself as a leader!
But do listen to and watch Picard. When this episode begins, Worf is in a rough way. He’s having an existential crisis of faith and of identity. He’s not showing up for work and he’s not taking very good care of himself. At this point, he’s been working with Picard for about 6 years and, as we’ve seen throughout this show, Picard takes the time to get to know and to connect, professionally, with the people he works with. He’s able to leverage this to provide the level of leadership people need, or really to know how to talk to someone based on what’s happening to them at the time.
I’ve highlighted times when he’s spoken with his team and asked them questions to help lead them to a solution. We’ve also seen examples where he has asked someone else, like Troi or Riker to address something with someone because he knows the person will receive it better, they’ll actually hear what they need to hear.
Those approaches generally work well with people, especially when you know them enough to know their communication styles. But those approaches will absolutely not work with Worf right now.
Before we look at his approach, let’s look at the dimensions that have to be considered when interacting with someone. And even before that, please don’t make this out to be more than it needs to be; these are just dimensions that need to be considered, and, often happen as a matter of course for you. My challenge to you is to be intentional about this but don’t make it such a formal exercise that you’re filling out forms and stuff. Just pause before your interaction and consider these things.
What is your relationship with this person? Both organizationally and personally. Are you their direct supervisor or are you their supervisor’s manager? Or are you a peer? Your organizational relationship has immediate implications. If, for example, you are the person’s manager’s manager, when you talk to them, you may be seen as a very important person and it may be difficult for them to see past your title. Or, if you’re a peer or you report to them, it might be difficult for them to give your thoughts and feedback the weight it deserves.
Personal relationships have additional impacts. There’s the person I’ve worked with for two years and have gotten to know pretty well; my interactions with them will be different than the person that joined the team 3 weeks ago. That doesn’t mean I’m going to treat them differently, right? Gotta be consistent, fair and equitable in your interactions, but, the reality is time and type of relationship make a difference.
Another dimension is the situation. Looking at Worf, if he approached Counselor Troi or Commander Riker and said he was having personal issues he thought could impact his work, that’s going to look different than a no-call no-show to his shift.
There are, honestly many other dimensions to consider, but these are a great place to start.
So what we see from Picard is that he is going to interact with someone that is organizationally two levels below him; Worf reports to Riker who reports to Picard. So, right off the bat, there are position-related implications to the interaction.
Personally, they have worked together for 6 years. Picard has stood with Worf through awful and traumatic experiences, like when he received a discommendation from the Klingon High Council. There’s a high level of trust between them.
And then the situation. Worf is a department head that is facing a personal crisis and it’s impacting his work. And, based on Ensign Dude that had to at least stay late, it’s impacting his team too.
Based on this, Picard’s normal approach of gently asking questions likely isn’t going to work. He knows he needs to connect with Worf where he is at, so he decides to shock him into listening.
Picard comes to Worf’s quarters and he likely expects what normally happens with Picard. Instead, he gets, “On your feet, lieutenant.” 4:00 But, and this is a HUGE but, when Worf responds to Picard and once he’s confident Worf has heard him, he shifts to compassion, “My behavior was… Inexcusable. But understandable.” 6:16
What he does here is amazing and a really big deal. I really want you to hear this. Being firm and delivering difficult messages does not have to be mean, detached or without compassion. Picard is clear that the behavior was unacceptable but he also validates Worf’s feelings. If you watch this scene, Michael Dorn does an incredible job here. Once Picard does that, his entire demeanor changes. He’s open to hearing what Picard has to say. And Picard takes advantage of that! He shifts to a solution space, offering a leave of absence to go do his stuff, but also ensures Worf understands what needs to happen, “When you return, you must behave like a Starfleet officer.” 7:10
What’s cool about this, is it sets Worf up for success, right? He gets time and resources to take care of himself. Yeah, that’s another thing. Picard basically gives him a shuttle to get to Boreth. Worf’s organization is actively investing in his wellness. Wouldn’t it be cool if every organization did that? But, it also level sets for Picard. There is a real chance that through this, Worf decides he can’t meet the behavior expectations Picard has laid out, and if that happens, that’s cool. All of the expectations and outcomes have been discussed and everyone is clear on what the future could look like.
And because of all of this, Worf basically becomes a superhero! He knows what is expected of him and he knows that he has the support of his leadership. I believe that this feeling is what empowers and enables him to basically alter the course of the entire Klingon Empire.
The clerics of Boreth, Koroth, specifically, have set up a super intricate lie. They’ve engineered the return of their messiah with the hope that he can take control of the Empire from Gowron and the High Council. On the other side of that, we have Gowron who oozes ego. He has straight up murdered political rivals and hasn’t hesitated to plunge the Empire into civil war to protect his status.
So, this is a pretty simple equation, right? I mean, the late-great Gorilla Monsoon put it best when he said The irresistible force meets the immovable object in regards to the epic matchup that main evented WrestleMania 3. Except instead of Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant, we have Gowron and Kahless, through Koroth.
Now, in the end, Worf was able to bring these two, disparate forces together, but before that, Gowron was outright advocating for the death of Kahless and Koroth wasn’t far off. But Worf’s journey made him look at this as more than just a struggle for power. For Gowron and Koroth this was binary – Kahless dies and Gowron retains power; Kahless lives and Gowron loses it all. And that’s what every argument was focused on – who would lead the Empire.
Worf’s journey of questioning his faith, gaining it, questioning it, going all in on it and then losing it again gave him a different perspective. It took him out of the weeds, out of the binary choice, and helped him see the entire forest. That’s when he saw the potential solution.
I am willing to bet this happens with you too. You see something one way and someone sees it the opposite way, or it’s between members of your team. We tend to get so locked into the thinking that your gain equals my loss, or vice-versa. But it literally takes just a simple thought exercise to move out of that. Pausing and consciously removing two words from your thinking can change everything. Remove the word you and remove the word I, and suddenly, you’re only left with we.
As an example. You want to change how work is distributed to the team so you can do more of the stuff that you’re interested in. I want to maintain the way things are done now because the work is distributed equitably, and our customers get what they need.
Boom, there’s a conflict. And depending on how we approach each other, this can get really unpleasant really fast. So let’s reframe this by dropping the word you and I from it.
We want to distribute the work so we can do what interests us, while distributing the work equitably and being sure the customers get what they need.
You see what just happened? We literally went from fighting words to a mission statement! This is something we can partner on and both work to achieve.
In this episode, this happens after Kahless being a clone is shared with everyone. From Gowron’s perspective it becomes – You are a fake that has no credibility and I am the rightful Chancellor that can best lead the Empire with honor. For Koroth it’s – You are corrupt and I have the person that people believe in and can best lead the empire with honor. Worf steps in and removes the you and I and says, we want the Empire to be ruled with honor and we have two people; one with a political right to rule and another that the people believe in.
Again, this changes the whole thing! Now it’s about leading with honor and acknowledging what both parties bring to the table. Kahless sees the wisdom in this, “Join with me, Gowron.” 41:52 and brings everyone together.
Put more simply, by reframing the issue, reframing the statements, it removes all personal ego from the equation and empowers everyone to focus on what is really important, and what is shared between both sides. So, instead of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object, it’s the immovable object becoming the irresistible force. Or something like that.
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Computer, what are we going to watch next time….
Hey, do you remember when I did the entire first season of Picard? Well, I sure do. In there, I talked about the stuff Soji was tossing around in her quarters when she was trying to figure out who she was and where she came from. I mentioned a lunchbox she had. That lunchbox had a children’s holonovel character on it named Flotter. Well, the random generator has deigned to ensure you know all about Flotter! Yep, it’s the 5th episode of the 5th season of Voyager, Once Upon a Time. It is, in many ways a Neelix episode, but it’s also an episode that establishes one of my favorite Voyager relationships: Naomi Wildman and Seven of Nine. I can’t wait to share it with you!
Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!