Turns out Kirk's a great manager too!
On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek, The Original Series, The Omega Glory. He will examine the leadership approaches of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock.
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Thanks, Pat, and welcome, everyone!! We’re headed to one of the last episodes of the 2nd season of the Original Series, The Omega Glory
The Enterprise approaches Omega IV and detects the USS Exeter, another Constitution Class starship. Kirk recalls the ship was in the area 6 months ago. No one responds hails, so Kirk, Spock, McCoy and an away team beam over to investigate.
They find uniforms, empty uniforms, with weird, rock-salt looking stuff in them. No survivors on board and all shuttlecraft still in the shuttle bay. They head to the bridge. We learn the ship was commanded by Captain Ronald Tracey, one of the most experienced captains in starfleet. McCoy confirms the crew are on board; the rock-salt is just the remaining chemical compounds of the people after something killed them. A log recording from the Exeter’s CMO reveals there is a sickness that has killed everyone and he hints that Captain Tracey is on the planet’s surface before dying himself.
They beam down to the planet and interrupt a scuffle. Looks like a group of people are getting ready to execute someone.
Let’s get this out of the way now. This episode was originally written as one of the potential pilots after The Cage was rejected; that was in 1965. The episode aired in ’68. Through a more modern lens there is some outright racist stuff going on through the entire episode. In fact, I would say this episode openly supports and promotes racism towards Asian people; assuming the political climate in the mid to late 60’s Vietnamese people, specifically. This is deplorable and not ok. The end moral of this episode, though, is aspirational and worthwhile. So, as I continue, I am not going to point out the egregious insults and disrespect towards asian people, I’ll focus on the higher theme and story, but I needed to say this if I’m not going to continue to point it out. Star Trek, and all media, for that matter, is a product of its time. The message, though, is timeless.
The execution is interrupted by none other than Captain Tracey. He greets Kirk and the crew and orders “the savages” to be locked up. The prisoners are called the Yangs. Per Tracey, they can’t communicate and will attack anything that moves. The villagers are called Kohms. One of the villagers recognizes the away teams’ phasers and Spock calls him out on that.
Kirk tries to figure out what happened. Tracey says the planet scanned as being perfectly safe, so they came down to make contact with the inhabitants. The landing party had contracted a disease that was spread to the ship and killed the whole crew. Tracey is still alive because he believes there is something on the planet that provides an immunity and keeps them alive. The Enterprise’s away team is also infected.
They set up a small lab to start researching their tissues and the disease. Kirk is wrestling with the fact Tracey has clearly violated the Prime Directive. It appears he has supplied the Kohms with phasers to aid in their battles with the Yangs. McCoy isn’t learning much. He fears it could take years to find what provides the immunity. He references an infection developed on Earth during the biological warfare experiments of the 1990’s.
Spock and Galloway bust into the room; Galloway has been severely injured in an attack by the Yangs. He claims they just attacked - no warning or provocation. Spock confirms the Kohm’s use of phasers. He reminds Kirk that his knowledge of Tracey’s violation of the Prime Directive now compels him to act or to be considered an accessory to the violation.
Just like we saw from Spock in Where No Man Has Gone Before, he is being straight with Kirk. No fluff, no extra niceties; just the facts and the options facing Kirk. Kirk knows what Spock is telling him! This isn’t the first time he heard he could be considered an accessory to the violation of the Prime Directive. But Spock tells Kirk what he probably doesn’t want to hear. It’s very different to know a thing than to hear it from someone. Spock supports his superior officer, his leader, by being painfully honest with him. This is something we all need. It’s something we can provide to the leaders we work with as well.
With eerily good timing, Tracey interrupts Kirk just as he’s about to inform the Enterprise of the violation so Starfleet can be updated. To put a point on it, Tracey shoots and kills Galloway. He then reaches out to the Enterprise to inform them that the away team is very sick and unconscious. Sulu, in temporary command, offers medical personnel, but Tracey rejects it. Says they have it well in hand. Sulu acknowledges the report and lets Tracey know they are doing well.
The Kohms take Spock and McCoy away leaving Kirk and Tracey alone. Kirk begins to recite regulation and Tracey finishes his sentence for him. He says Kirk was required to say those words and now he’s said them. He then shares his master plan. The inhabitants of the planet have no trace of any disease. They live hundreds of years! There are Kohms that are over a thousand years old! Tracey believes the immunizing agent can act as a fountain of youth; that it can provide immortality. He tries to get Kirk to join him saying there are huge profits to be made and that withholding technology like this would be a crime against humanity. Kirk disagrees and communicates it by attacking Tracey! This gets him locked up too, but he’s locked up in a cell with the Yangs that were going to be executed earlier. This results in a very slow-paced Star Trek fight <ST fight music, slowed down??> with some really weird and kind of uncomfortable camera shots - like, they’ll just randomly show Spock watching in the other cell looking kind of concerned. An odd sequence. There is some fun back-and-forth between Kirk and Spock in here! Spock even makes fun of him - "yes, try to reason with them.” The female Yang ends up close to the bars and Spock nerve pinches her after a judo throw from Kirk. This gives all of them a moment’s rest.
McCoy is sent back into his lab to get to work on the cure and the immortality serum. You know seems like this mission gets picked up a hundred some odd years later by Admiral Dougherty… Anyway, McCoy is under close supervision but he is doctoring away trying to learn anything he can.
With the Yangs down, Kirk and Spock postulate what has happened on Omega IV. Spock, while trying to pry the bars out of the window, thinks there was a massive war with devastating nuclear and bacteriological weapons used and that they are in the early days of the two civilizations coming back from that. While they’re talking, Kirk says the word “freedom.” This gets the interest of the Yang who starts speaking, quite intelligibly, with them. He claims “freedom” is a worship word and that Kirk is not worthy to speak it. Kirk tries to connect with them, saying freedom is also a worship word for him and his crew. He cautiously starts working to pry the bars out of his window and encourages the Yang to help him. They work together and are successful. The Yang clocks Kirk in the back of the head, knocking him out as the two of them climb out and escape.
Despite the bar to the back of the head, Kirk approached this really well. He knew the exact moment he had cracked the code and found common ground with his enemy. He immediately capitalized on their shared value of the word freedom to attempt to create a bond. He furthered the bond by emphasizing their shared plight of being prisoners of the Kohms. What he’s doing here is actively seeking common ground. Once you have that, you can begin to work your way towards trust. He takes three, decisive and significant steps to build trust with the Yangs. First, he acknowledges the value of the word freedom. Then, he explains their common enemy in the Kohms, Finally he physically starts working towards their shared freedom while inviting the Yang to work alongside him. He starts with words and moves to action. Now this didn’t end particularly well for him! But that’s because he was working with a distrust that runs much deeper than just him. This Yang believes Kohms are only good for killing and has no reason to not think they have that same sentiment towards him.
But, in our world, we don’t often find ourselves locked in a cell with someone we believe is part of a group that is actively killing all of us. Where we do find ourselves is in a situation where we don’t trust a peer. Or we don’t trust our manager. Kirk’s approach here can work very well for us in those situations. Seek out common ground. Find opportunities to translate that into action. This doesn’t provide a shortcut to trust, as evidenced by Kirk’s concussion, but it paves a road to it. You still have to work and earn that trust - but now you can!
I suppose another lesson in this, as I think about the potential brain injury Kirk now has to deal with, is the impact of trauma. Like, the deep and often unexpected manifestations of trauma. I think it’s important here that I let you know I am not a medical professional. I don’t know behavioral health. I’m just a guy that has had a lot of management and leadership roles in my life. But what I know is that trauma is real. In DS9 Emissary we talked about how Sisko never left the moment of his wife’s death. That trauma informed every action and decision he made from that point forward and he didn’t realize it until the Prophets - or Wormhole Aliens - showed him. The Yang has suffered tremendous trauma; he’s been at war, for as much as we know, his entire life. He’s likely seen countless loved ones slaughtered by the Kohms. Kirk starting to pave a road to trust doesn’t make all that just go away. His brain has been literally wired to respond violently to the unknown. There’s no way Kirk could have known the depths of his trauma. To be clear, Kirk didn’t do anything wrong here, and the Yang behaved as expected. What we can hope is that the paved road pays off later in the episode.
Kirk wakes up after having been out for 7 hours and 8 minutes. Whoa!! That’s a LONG time! A severe head injury will knock someone out for a few minutes; at 30 minutes they are in beyond critical condition. 7 hours…wow! Kirk, not wasting any time, climbs out the window, frees Spock and they meet up with McCoy. He’s in there 7 hours and the window is still wide open - like, no one even checked up on them in that time! They have no idea the Yangs have even escaped. Akin Rewrite: make that 7 minutes, and we’re good.
McCoy confirms there was a terrible, biological war that occurred here. Over time, nature counter-balanced the overload of diseases. After just a few hours, the planet, through nature, cures the disease. McCoy’s conclusion is there is no fountain of youth “I can do more of you eat right and exercise,” and this is just the biology of the inhabitants and the nature of Omega IV. Bottom line, they’re cured and can safely leave the planet at any time - as can Captain Tracey.
On cue, once again, Tracey pops in and this time he blasts the communication device. He’s a wreck. The Yangs, informed by the escapee, attacked. The Kohms killed thousands but they kept coming. It was an absolute massacre, on both sides. McCoy offers that they all just beam up and leave. Tracey demands the immortality serum but there will never be one. In an exasperated effort he takes Kirk outside and commands him, at phaser point, to get weapons from the Enterprise. He makes the request to Uhura and Sulu who refuse it, based on established procedure and protocol. Kirk half-heartedly argues “not even if we’re in danger.” But they still refuse. Tracey acknowledges the training of the bridge crew and then Star Trek fight number 2 <<ST fight music>>kicks off! This one is really oddly paced too. Just feels uncomfortable and weird; even for the original series! The fight ends when a group of Yangs capture them.
It’s a passing moment in this sequence, but when Kirk calls for the phasers, we see the results of excellent management and leadership. He has clearly trained and drilled his officers on the regulations and processes, specifically around weapons and landing parties. He is so confident in that training and drilling that he doesn’t even hesitate to call up to them when Tracey demands it. He knows what’s going to happen. He has created a culture of accountability on the Enterprise. Can you think of situations where the rules apply to everyone but the boss? Like, maybe on the Exeter, if one of Tracey’s crew made that ask of his bridge crew they would have followed protocol, but if Captain Tracey asked, they’d make an exception. He is the Captain, after all, right? But on the Enterprise, it doesn’t matter. Everyone is accountable, even Kirk. He not only teaches it and models but, but confidently expects it.
That reminds me of a quick story. I used to work in a building with about 1,500 people working in it. We were required to wear badges and had a reception/security station that we’d have to show them to. One day, we received an email from our CEO about building security. She explained that there was one person that worked that reception station that would ask her for her badge every time she walked into the building. She started trying make it like she was insulted; her picture is in the lobby!! Instead, she praised this employee for holding her to the same security standards as everyone else. That always stuck with me because she not only expected that she is held as accountable as anyone else, but she went out of her way to very publicly praise the person that held her accountable.
We find ourselves in the Yang headquarters. Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Tracey are all bound up. Spock and Kirk talk about some of the cultural affectations they’ve seen with the Yangs and they connect the oh-so-obscured undertones of the episode: Yang equals Yankee and Kohm equals Communist. So, there you go.
And that theme hits warp speed as an American flag is brought into the room. It had been captured by the Kohms and the Yangs just retrieved it. The man Kirk was locked up with introduces himself as Cloud William, speaker of the holy words. He puts his hand over his heart and recites a garbled version of the pledge of allegiance to which Kirk jumps right in and finishes the pledge for him. Flashbacks to grade school for me on this one!
The Yangs are offended as he’s speaking their holy words. Kirk lets out that they’re from space. Tracey jumps on this and weaves a story that Kirk and his crew are devils. He even points out Spock’s ears and eyes. “descrive the evil one.” Cloud William picks up a Holy Bible - are the Gideons warp capable?? Not the season 3 Gideons, you know…nevermind - and opens to the Book of Haggai with a drawing that is the spitting image of one Mister Spock. Weird choice, that Book is about rebuilding the second Temple; not sure what Vulcans had to do with that… Well, you can imagine the Yangs were feeling pretty convinced. Kirk argues the point leading to a battle between good and evil, for good shall always triumph over evil. AMAZING quote from McCoy here, “evil wins unless good is careful.” Very poignant. Kirk and Tracey are bound together at the wrist and we get Star Trek fight number 3!! Kirk gains the upper hand with a modified fujiwara armbar but refuses to kill Tracey.
Spock uses his telepathic abilities to convince the female that was locked up with Cloud William <<Hamilton again>> to bring him a communicator. This brings down Sulu and others. They arrest Tracey and Kirk admonishes the Yangs for using the holy words without meaning, just reciting empty words. Kirk grabs the holy document Cloud William <<Hamilton again>> has been holding. He says they have collected many documents such as this that all essentially say the same thing, but none have said it quite so well as this. He then gives a powerful, dramatic reading of the preamble to the US Constitution.
Kirk lays out the moral of the episode, the message. These words aren’t meant just for the chiefs, or the rich and powerful, but for all people. All people. Including your enemies. These words apply to every single person; to all people. “They must apply to everyone or they mean nothing.” A statement that we should all think about. Again, “They must apply to everyone or they mean nothing.”
Instead of Kirk, Spock and McCoy on the bridge to end the episode, we get a closeup of the flag.
I absolutely love the message, the moral of this episode. While it uses the United States as the example, and clearly espouses US values as the natural evolution of all that is good, the underlying message is timeless and boundless. Freedom that doesn’t apply to everyone is no freedom at all. This isn’t in the episode but I think it captures the spirit well. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” sure sounds good. Sounds amazing, in fact! In the 18th century this was a mind-blowing concept. But, do we treat all men; all people as if they were created equal? I’ll let you answer that question for yourself, but until we do, until we actually treat every person as if we were all created equally, they are just pretty and empty words. If an organization says it has a value - we all have those Values and Vision posters in our offices, but doesn’t model it across the board; it’s just words.
I always like seeing other starships and crew from them in the original series. Fun piece of trivia, Captain Tracey is the only living person, other than Kirk, that we see with the Captain’s rank braids in all of TOS. Kind of cool.
Other than that, yeah, let’s be honest. This was a terrible episode. Awkward camera positioning, weird pacing, total lack of subtlety, over the top racism. I have to believe that, even at the time this was just bad television. I was probably close to 8 or 10 the first time I remember seeing this episode and even I then I thought the whole Yang and Kohm thing was heavy handed. You can’t make a great episode every time, right? I mean Ty Cobb, best batting average ever, still missed just about 2 out of 3 times; and he’s a legend! And, hey, even the Undertaker lost at Wrestlemania! Point being, we take the good with the bad. And this is very much the bad.
This is the second episode of the Original Series we’ve looked at. In both episodes Spock has been a strong support to Kirk. He has reminded him, appropriately, of policy and procedure, and talked him through difficult decisions. Despite Kirk’s <ridiculous response> at the end of the episode, Spock even questions Kirk’s actions. He’s a solid first officer that actively works to make his captain look good and remain compliant. I mean, really, I almost think of him as Kirk’s conscience here. Who knew, Spock and Jiminy Cricket!
I really want to have a list of great lessons we learned from Kirk, bu there just isn’t a lot. Earlier we talked about his ability to connect with and bond with people to build towards trust; that was fantastic.
What I did really appreciate, and we talked through it a bit already, but the evidence of his strong training program. Put yourself in the position of Sulu. All the senior officer leave the ship and within minutes, they inform you they’ve been infected with a deadly disease and they can’t come back to the ship, but hold tight! So, pretty immediate cause for concern, maybe even panic. But then Tracey calls up to the ship and Sulu’s as cool as the other side of the pillow. Tracey tells him the landing party is unconscious and in terrible shape; Sulu just offers assistance. Uhura is right next to him and she’s calm, engaged, and just ready to do her job.
Later on Kirk calls up and asks for weapons. Again Sulu and Uhura, super smooth, just quote procedure and follow what they know. Finally, Sulu receives a communicator signal, immediately beams down - not knowing the disease can be cured just by staying on the planet!! - and takes care of business. Now, a lot of this is because Sulu is an absolute rock star, but it’s also the product of training. For the crew, this is just another day in the life. Kirk and Spock have built a training program where they run drills, reinforce appropriate behavior and give opportunities for people to step up. Had this culture of continuous learning and reinforcement not been cultivated, I would bet that Sulu would have lost it by the time Tracey reached out to him.
I think there are a couple pieces of this that you can apply. Do you create training opportunities for people beyond their current level? Do you have a succession plan so operations can continue even when people move on? Train people for the positions they want and are capable of, not just their current job. And, actively seek opportunities to give them responsibilities at that next level. Then, when you are promoted, or the subject matter expert you rely on gets snagged by the competition, your bench is deep and has played a few downs already. They can step right up and continue operations.
The key to building a succession plan is to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of your positions, and to identify the strengths, desires and preferences of your team. Then you foster, train and build based on matches between the people and the positions.
Good stuff that Kirk has clearly done.
I love hearing from you! What are your thoughts on this one? Do you, like Allan Austin in his essay, The Limits of Star Trek’s Final Frontier, believe Roddenberry was being being subversive? Are there lessons in this episode I’ve missed? I’m on all the social media @jefftakin Jeff, t as in tonsillitis, a k i n. If you have enjoyed the Starfleet Leadership Academy, please share it with a friend or someone you think could benefit from it.
What are we going to watch next time….
There’s Coffee in the Nebula!! We’ll be watching The Cloud from Voyager’s first season! Some good stuff in this episode, if I remember correctly! I really enjoyed the lessons we learned from Janeway in the first episode of this podcast; let’s see if she continues to impress!
Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!