It's never "no." It's Yes...if...
On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek Voyager, Warlord (Season 3, Episode 10). He will examine the leadership approaches of Kes and Tieran.
Do you like to say no? When someone asks you to do something, are you like most people and want to say yes? Well, Jeff breaks down a way to say yes without overcommitting yourself. In fact, by using his "Yes, if..." model you can all but ensure that you will only be taking on the tasks that are appropriately resourced, needed, and that you want to do.
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Welcome! Thanks for joining me today. Are you the kind of person that says yes to everything? Are you afraid to say no when someone asks you to do something? How do you change that? How do you flip the script and effectively only say yes to the things you really need to do; that you really want to do? Following the example of Captain Janeway and a very different Kes than the one we’ve come to know, I’ll share my favorite way to respond to a request: yes…if. Let’s do it. It’s the 10th episode of the 3rd season of Voyager, Warlord.
Neelix, the cook and morale officer of the ship, has created a new holodeck program, the Paxau Resort. It was a houtie toutie resort on Talax. It’s like a tropical getaway. Harry Kim and Tom Paris contribute by adding a bunch of 90’s scantily-clad women and some Caribbean music that leads to the most disturbing scene in all of Voyager – a barefoot Neelix getting down with a bunch of ladies. A little later on, B’Elanna, the ship’s Engineer, visits and makes a few additions of her own. “I’ve made a few modifications of my own.” 8:07 We see this holodeck program off-and-on for awhile on the show.
All the senior officers are called to the bridge. There’s a transport ship that has been attacked and is breaking apart. It’s a sticky and tough operation, but they’re able to beam the crew to sickbay just as the transport explodes. “I’ve got them. I’m impressed.” 5:40
The Doctor and Kes are treating the injured crew, they’re in bad shape. Kes, if you remember, is the Ocampa person they picked up back in Caretaker. The Ocampa are an interesting, and entirely impossible, species – more on that in a future episode. But they have a lifespan of only about 9 years so they age quickly, reaching physical maturity after a little over a year. At this point in Voyager, Kes is about 4 years old. They also have impressive telepathic abilities and tend to be very compassionate. Kes has been working as a medical aide to the Doctor and also manages the ship’s airponics bay which provides plants, fruits and vegetables to the crew.
Most of the injured are going to recover, but one, Tieran, isn’t. “Doctor, his heart stopped.” 6:09 Tieran’s wife, Nori is heartbroken. Kes comforts her as Tieran passes away.
The survivors say they were attacked by mercenaries who were likely wanting to kidnap and ransom them to the Autarch of their planet. They set course to return them. Kes is spending a lot of time with the survivors, comforting them and giving them a tour of the ship. She and Neelix meet up in the holodeck. He wants to spend time with Kes and the survivors as well and just pushes to far. “We can keep them busy together. I’ll keep them so busy.” 9:33 Ugh, we all know this person, right? The one that sees you doing something, wants to get involved and then tries to take it all over? So annoying. And Kes has finally had enough! She lays it down to Neelix, saying he’s jealous, he interferes in her life and she breaks up with him! “It’s time we take a break” 10:34
They arrive at the planet and a representative from the Autarch comes on board to thank Voyager. Kes whips out a phaser, blasts the rep and the transporter operator, Ensign Martin. They beam a shuttle into space and beam themselves onto it! Kes is shouting orders and leading the escape. They warp away and Voyager is in pursuit even though they’ve lost track of them on sensors. “Ensign Martin is dead.” 12:36 Things are not going well.
Kes and crew arrive at a planet and they meet with a lieutenant of Tieran’s. “That’s Tieran??” 13:34 That’s right. Tieran transferred into the mind of Kes. She is still in there, but he’s in control. Full control. Even control of her telepathic abilities.
Turns out that about 200 years ago, Tieran was the Autarch but was eventually deposed by the people because he was terrible and murdered a lot. He found a way to keep his consciousness alive in host bodies and has been working for two centuries to reclaim his title. On Voyager, The Doctor goes to work on the corpse of Tieran “Examine the body so we know how this works.” 16:53 and is trying to find a way to recover Kes and her consciousness. The current Autarch’s son, Demmas, claims she is lost forever and wants to enlist Voyager for a battle against Tieran, but Janeway isn’t down with that. “All I care about is recovering Kes.” 17:08 That’s the good ‘ol Prime Directive in action!
Kes and crew march into the Imperial Hall, kill the Autarch and kidnap his other son. Kes, I mean Tieran, proclaims herself Autarch. She immediately starts doling out titles and assignments to her supporters and entrenches herself in the Hall. There are moments where Kes seems to shine through; getting excited about plants, getting headaches. Over time, we learn that there is a struggle for control going on in Kes’s mind.
The citizens are splitting into factions. The law supports Demmas as Autarch but Tieran is playing on power and charisma. Soon, “there will be no way to avoid a civil war.” 23:57
The Doctor has figured out how the transfer was made. There is a neural node and some microfibers. Knowing this, he’s created a device that will remove Tieran’s consciousness, but it has to be put in contact with her physically. Tuvok sneaks down to the surface, infiltrates the Hall and attempts to put the device on her, but he’s overtaken and imprisoned. In the meantime, things aren’t going well for Tieran. “This body isn’t accepting the host.” 26:08 Advisors think he needs to find a new host quickly, but he likes the telepathic powers too much to give it up.
Tieran questions Tuvok and in that, he’s able to grab her in a Vulcan mind-meld. This allows her to break through, temporarily. He coaches her on how to fight for control, but then Tieran gets control back. Because Tuvok has missed his rendezvous, Janeway works with Demmas to plan an attack on the Imperial Hall.
Back in the Hall, as Tieran tries to rest, Kes mounts an assault. She’s fighting back, hard. “You’re already slipping away and I can feel it.” 37:04 She is stronger than she’s ever been before. Tieran’s doctor pulls him out of the battle. Furious, she uses her mind to crush his mind and she kills his doctor.
Demmas’s fleet and Voyager advance on the planet. A small team makes its way into the Hall. They rescue Tuvok and make their way to Tieran. The fight is on!! They phaser their way through the defenses. Neelix stuns Tieran, slaps the device on her face and Kes is back! “Demmas. It’s over.” 43:10 She hands control to Demmas who is the rightful and uncontested Autarch.
As Voyager leaves the scene, Tuvok helps guide Kes through meditations to heal her mind. She’s struggling to adapt, but he commits to helping her.
When this one came up as the episode all I really remembered about it was Kes breaking up with Neelix, but there is so much more to like in this one! And it’s all embodied in Jennifer Lien. Her getting to take Kes to new places was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, though, we also get a sneak peek into some of the darker points in Voyager’s and even Enterprise’s futures.
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Held to any level of scrutiny, this episode is pretty ridiculous. I mean, a murderous tyrant from 200 years ago shows up in the body of a young alien and everyone’s like, sure! Yeah! You’re the Autarch now. And, 200 years. Yeah, because of some microfiber thing? But, hey, this isn’t an episode about feasibility, it’s about Kes evolving and changing as a person.
And that evolution was pretty fun. “I suppose I could threaten you…” 29:41-30:20 Jennifer Lien was really leaning into this and having fun. In an interview she said this role was a real stretch for her. I thought she was great. And, honestly, the flimsy premise that made it all happen gave the perfect cover for any acting missteps. Like, that’s not an acting struggle; it’s Kes fighting back against Tieran. Brilliant!
Like I’ve said, my favorite part about this episode is the end of Kes and Neelix’s relationship. There’s a big part of the Star Trek community that have a problem with their relationship because Kes was 2 years-old when they met up. I have a problem with their relationship because it was terrible. Kes was right! Neelix is creepily over-involved in everything. He stifles her and is super jealous. Breaking them up gives Kes a chance to be her own person and I am totally cool with that.
All that said, it’s not like Star Trek has a lot of great relationship stuff in it. Part of that comes from the overlord of all things Trek during this period: Rick Berman. I feel like this guy wanted one thing out of business and two things out of Trek. He wanted money, period. And he wanted it through syndication and sex. We see that in a lot of places but we’re off to the races starting here. It eventually leads to Jeri Ryan wearing outfits so tight she’s nearly hospitalized and those super awkward scenes in Enterprise where they rub glitter gel on each other. In this one, we see it in the very mid-90s swimsuits everyone is wearing on the holodeck and the wildly weird scene where Tieran marries Demmas’s brother when he’s already married to Nori. “I want you two to be very, very close friends.” 38:55 Yeah, that’s not too subtle at all.
Despite all of this, it’s a fun episode. Great for background watching. That said, if you never saw this one in your entire life, you’ll still do just fine.
Saying no is a showstopper. Or, best case, it just makes everyone work harder. If you’re asked to do something you can’t, or don’t want to do, saying no can reflect poorly on you. So what do you do? Well, you say yes…if. Yes if. I’ll talk about what this looks like and how it can lead to wildly innovative ideas.
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Before we get to the Yes If approach, I want to point out a split-second thing that happens that really hit me in the wrong way. At the beginning of the episode, they run into the damaged transport and call for all the senior staff to come to the bridge. There’s a half-second that goes by where we see Tom Paris, in his holodeck gear, slide into the helm position and whomever was on shift before him slide out. Totally innocuous, right?
First, I gotta say, yes, I know this a TV show and Paris is one of the main characters. I get that. But this demonstrates such a toxic view that promotes self-importance and kills team development.
I used to be in the US Navy. I served on a submarine, which, I’ve gotta believe, is about as close to starship as I could get at that time. The operational culture of a boat is built on qualifications. Quals. Before you stand a watch – do a job – unsupervised, you get qualified to do it which means a superior checks your work and signs off on it. Any person that works a job unsupervised is totally trained and qualified to be there.
Is it not like that on Voyager?? Like, if there’s an emergency does a senior officer always have to come on watch?? If you’re not on the DVD cover, all you can do is point the ship in a direction and keep that going? That is ridiculous! With a culture like that, no one will have any confidence in their abilities and will never grow and develop in their job. And the senior officer that always has to swoop in will develop this gross sense of self-importance because only they can solve the big problem. The other side of that coin is those people may feel overworked and that they’re not being treated fairly. Which is totally true! Like, it’s either boring and routine all the time, or super stress-filled and urgent all the time. Neither of those are very palatable.
Does this sound like anything you’ve ever seen or experienced? The day-to-day work is good enough for anyone, but when things get tough, or high profile, the same people tend to take over or get those assignments. I have seen this too many times. And every time I do there is either super high turnover in the regular positions or morale is tanked…or both.
To stop this from happening you need to do two things. First, like we did on the boat, make sure that every person doing a job on their own is qualified, trained and prepared for the job. Second, be sure to spread assignments and opportunities around equitably. Give everyone a chance to handle some of the routine stuff and everyone a chance to do the exciting stuff. I mean, the dude on shift could have likely handled the transport ship thing and it probably would have been the highlight of his month!! Take a good, hard look at the workloads in your area and see if this happening and then do something about it!
One of the reasons this happens is because high performers and, often, more senior people have a really hard time with one word. One, single word, two letters: no. There are real consequences to not saying no, and a lot of perceived consequences to saying no.
If you never say no, you’ll have an overloaded plate, for sure. Too many projects, too many responsibilities and too many opportunities to let people down. But if you do say no, people will think you’re difficult. They’ll think you’re lazy. They’ll be like, ‘what does Jeff do anyway? Seriously, that guy is always turning stuff down.’ Or will they. Honestly, one set of these things is true and the other simply is not.
It can be hard to say no. But all because of situations we make up in our heads. We don’t want to perceived as negative but we also want to be seen as helpful. The reality is, though, if you say yes to everything, you will actually let people down because it is not possible to meet all the commitments you’ll make. In fact, another way to think of it is that every time you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else. ‘Yes I’ll do that research for you,’ means, ‘No, I will not spend time with my kids.’ ‘Yes, I’ll do that presentation,’ means, ‘No, I will not get my Salesforce updated.’ See what I mean?
So what do you do? Instead of no, you say yes if. ‘Hey Jeff, will you take this presentation on?’ ‘Yes. If someone can handle this data entry for me.’ Or, ‘Jeff, will take on development of this Power App?’ ‘Yes, if you get me trained on Power Apps, ensure I have the correct licensing and cover my daily workload.’
Now it’s not a no, you’ve clearly identified what needs to happen to make it a yes. Whether or not those things are achievable are up to the person asking you. You can apply this to just about anything and it’s great! I mean, who wouldn’t want to learn a new skill while someone else did their day-to-day work? And if it is so important to the powers that be that I’m the one that develops the App, they’ll provide all that stuff. If it isn’t, they won’t, and they’ll find someone else to do the work.
It’s also a great way to encourage innovative or different thinking. In the episode, Demmas says Kes is gone, Tieran has taken over and there is no way to save her. Janeway responds, “I’m not willing to accept that.” 16:50 She is essentially saying, yes, Kes is gone if we can’t find a way to save and recover her and then she leans on the talents and expertise of her team to solve the problem.
And let’s pretend that Tieran’s body wasn’t still available for The Doctor to start his investigation with. Janeway tells him to find a way to pull Tieran’s consciousness from Kes, he could say, Yes if you can get me scans, data, tissues, samples, etc. from his people or ideally from him. Then, if those things aren’t available, he’s not perceived as difficult for saying no, but instead, Janeway would respond with, ‘we don’t have access to any of those things,’ and then he could either say he couldn’t do it or say he’d do his best given the lack of information that everyone agrees isn’t available.
I use this approach a lot when I work with the public sector. In the government space, there are more than policies that direct the work, there are laws. And yes, laws dictate a lot in the private sector, but I’ve often thought about the difference being that in the private sector laws tell you what you can’t do, while in the public sector, laws tell you exactly what you must do. It’s a tight distinction, but it makes sense. I’ll talk background checks as a for instance since that’s an area I know well. If I am a private company that runs long-term care facilities, the law tells me I can’t hire someone without them going through a background check. If I’m the regulating agency doing those background checks, that same law tells me who, how, when to do the background check.
So when I’m working in the public sector and I ask if a thing can be done I am often told no. But using the yes if model that changes. I ask if something is possible that could offer a huge efficiency, help a lot of people and save money, but there’s a law that says they have to do things in a more wasteful way. So now, instead of no, it’s yes, if the law changes. And, bam! Now I have a path! I have a to-do. Because, guess what. Laws can change! They change all the time. But if I know that’s what needs to happen, everything changes. First, is it worth the work of changing the law? Like, does this save $8,000 a year? Because if that’s it, it may not be worth the time and effort. But if it’s bigger than that, or the positive impact to people is big enough, then I start looking at how I can introduce a bill to change the law. And that’s a far cry from no, right?
I loved this moment in the episode that Kes was faced with exactly this. She had killed the Autarch and taken the younger brother hostage. Demmas, the now rightful Autarch was on Voyager. She was trying to get the little brother to pledge loyalty to her but he wasn’t interested at first. He pointed out that Demmas was legally the guy. Kes, as Tieran says, “It’s the law. It doesn’t have to be.” 21:32 I mean, she’s the Autarch so she’ll have a shorter path to changing the law, but the point is, the law can change. The rules can change. Sometimes it’s not a constraint but just a different task!
One of the keys to this, though, is that you have to be realistic. You can’t pull stuff like, Yes, if we have a new governor, the libertarians gain control of congress and they vote during a solar eclipse. That’s just being ridiculous…and maybe kinda funny. But the if’s have to be real if’s. And yes, sometimes they won’t be achievable. My earlier example on the Power Apps, maybe the organization cannot afford the licensing. That’s real. But it’s also a real if.
I think we get so stuck in this thinking that we have to do something. Or that something has to be a certain way. In the podcast episode on Discovery, Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad I talked about the six words that mean the end of any organization and how Burnham ignored them. Those six words are: that’s how we’ve always done it. And sometimes that gets codified into policy or a procedure or something. Just because a thing has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean it needs to. Using Yes if, you can identify those barriers and then decide if you want to change it or not.
And really, that myth that you have to do something is just that…a myth. There is very, very little that we actually have to do. There is a lot that we have taken on as responsibilities or even obligations, but the reality is, we choose to do those things. When I feel like I have to do a thing, need to do a thing, I lean on the words of Principal Joe Clark, as portrayed by Morgan Freeman, “All I have to do is stay black and die.” Like, that’s it!! Even the saying that the only certainties in life are death and taxes is a myth! Like, a lot of people don’t pay taxes. So many people! So stop saying no and start saying yes if.
I mean, selfishly, this is a great tool to use too. Sometimes, it’s not about the constraints or barriers…sometimes you honestly just don’t want to do a thing! You can use this tool to get out of those things without saying no too! Quick, fun story on that. I’ve shared before that I used to work in pro wrestling. Mostly doing the commentary or broadcast work but also doing interviews, ring announcing, managing and just about anything else. I loved working in that business but there were some people and places I absolutely did not like working for. So I’d use this model to either get out of it or make it very much worth my time. They’d call and offer me the gig and I’d say, yes! Absolutely! If you can cover my transportation, meals and I charge this exorbitant amount for the job. Either way, I win! They say no, that’s too much, and, cool! I didn’t want the gig anyway. But they say yes, and, yeah, I gotta go work there, but I’ve got a sweet payday coming!
I don’t know if that helps a lot, but I just want to demonstrate the many, many uses for this powerful model! So, try it out. The next time something comes across that you want to say no to, or that is honestly beyond your capacity or ability, flip the script and say yes if. You might find that you start getting what you need to do things, or your workload may just start looking a little more reasonable.
I want to read a review that was left on Apple Podcasts. This is from Sisternomics, which I looked up and is a super great podcast as well! Sisternomics says:
If you love StarTrek and you value leadership you’ll love this podcast! Jeff is fun to listen to and really takes time to develop the episodes, giving them a layer of depth you don’t often hear in leadership related podcasts. Viewing leadership through the lens of this iconic TV series is such a unique and compelling idea. Keep up the great work.
Thank you, Sisternomics! You can get your review read on the podcast as well. Head on over to Apple Podcasts, click the write a review button and share your thoughts! It helps attract more listeners by giving social proof that this is worth listening to, and it means the world to me. Screenshot your review and share it with me and I’ll read it on a future episode. You can send it to me on social media.
I’m on Twitter: @ SFLA podcast and Instagram and other places, @jefftakin Jeff, t as in Tieran, a k i n.
Computer, what are we going to watch next time….
Ok, so there was a time when this was some pretty mind-blowing stuff, but if you’re newer to the Star Trek franchise this might not pack the punch it once did. We are going to see Mr Spock smile!! And we’re going to see him freak out. Yes!! In the 25th episode of the 1st season of The Original Series, This Side of Paradise, Spock, and others, get blasted with some spores and, well, hijinks ensue. This is a classic, original episode that, if you haven’t seen, it’s time for you to give it a watch.
Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!