Underrated Leaders: Jean-Luc Picard

Every month we look at an underrated leader whose leadership skills we admire – whether it’s a fictional character, a historical figure, or a real-life person. This month we take a look at Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise.

Picard is a compelling character who often subverts the trope of masculine space captain. He’s an Earl Grey drinking, philosophy-loving, reader who is genuinely interested in all his crew (even the android Data) and has a telepathic counsellor on-board his deck – he’s the opposite of the virile, rash and reckless James T Kirk. He’s no swashbuckler, but that makes him a more interesting hero, and a better leader.

As a leader, he’s a visionary. Every episode of his series of Star Trek started with his voice over reminding us of what his mission is – to seek out new life! On a long voyage (just like on a long project), it’s important for a leader to make sure that everyone knows why they’re doing what they’re doing.

Being first at any cost is not always the point.

Jean-Luc Picard

In Picard’s job, he’s often hit with moral quandaries that Starfleet doesn’t have precedents for. While few of us work in space, it’s important to note that often there are ethical situations that need to be navigated in our working lives. How we engage with them and the decisions we make have huge impacts on more than ourselves.

This is because he has a strong moral code, as dictated by Starfleet and its various ethical guidelines. As a leader (and indeed, as a person), if you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they’re simply not your values. His intelligence and curiosity underpin his philosophical mien: he’s an explorer in all senses of the word. He doesn’t make assumptions as a rule (as many leaders are wont to do), but questions things.

Interestingly, as a leader, Picard manages to be both compassionate, and dispassionate – he doesn’t let strong emotions inhibit his ability to be rational and see the bigger picture. And for him, that’s not incompatible with caring deeply, or being passionate. He doesn’t mistake being emotional for being empathetic. At all times, he’s deeply thoughtful.

It’s possible to make no mistakes and still lose. That is not weakness, that is life.

Jean-Luc Picard

Picard’s strength as a leader comes from a solid foundation of trust. His crew trust him and he trusts them. He gently coaches them to become the best that they can be, and when they make mistakes, and people inevitably do, they are upset because they’ve let him down. He’s forgiving and doesn’t punish people, which shouldn’t been seen as a weakness. His enemies see him as formidable.

One of the core reasons that Picard is such a successful leader is because he is motivated to work for the common good and not his own, personal gain. He’s not interested in rewards, for promotions or even money. He knows what his goal is – to complete his mission and support everyone else as well.

There’s a lot to learn from Picard. Intelligence, courtesy, compassion, wisdom and courtesy. He truly is an icon.

As a leader, a good question to ask yourself is this: what do you want to have as your legacy?

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