Five Leadership Lessons From James T. Kirk – By Alex Knapp – Forbes Magazine

On his five-year mission commanding the U.S.S. Enterprise, as well as subsequent commands, James T. Kirk was a quintessential leader, who led his crew into the unknown and continued to succeed time and time again.
Kirk’s success was no fluke, either. His style of command demonstrates a keen understanding of leadership and how to maintain a team that succeeds time and time again, regardless of the dangers faced. Here are five of the key leadership lessons that you can take away from Captain Kirk as you pilot your own organization into unknown futures.

Alex Knapp is the social media editor and a staff writer at Forbes Magazine.   Recently Alex posted an excellent look at leadership from the perspective of none other than James T. Kirk of Commander of the Starship Enterprise.  With attribution to Alex Knapp, I am re-posting his blog comments for my Smart Job Search readers.    

Captain James T. Kirk is one of the most famous Captains in the history of Starfleet. There’s a good reason for that. He saved the planet Earth several times, stopped the Doomsday Machine, helped negotiate peace with the Klingon Empire, kept the balance of power between the Federation and the Romulan Empire, and even managed to fight Nazis. On his five-year mission commanding the U.S.S. Enterprise, as well as subsequent commands, James T. Kirk was a quintessential leader, who led his crew into the unknown and continued to succeed time and time again.

Kirk’s success was no fluke, either. His style of command demonstrates a keen understanding of leadership and how to maintain a team that succeeds time and time again, regardless of the dangers faced.  Here are five of the key leadership lessons that you can take away from Captain Kirk as you pilot your own organization into unknown futures.

1. Never Stop Learning

“You know the greatest danger facing us is ourselves, an irrational fear of the unknown. But there’s no such thing as the unknown– only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood.”

Captain Kirk may have a reputation as a suave ladies man, but don’t let that exterior cool fool you. Kirk’s reputation at the Academy was that of a “walking stack of books,” in the words of his former first officer, Gary Mitchell. And a passion for learning helped him through several missions. Perhaps the best demonstration of this is in the episode “Arena,” where Kirk is forced to fight a Gorn Captain in single combat by advanced beings. Using his own knowledge and materials at hand, Kirk is able to build a rudimentary shotgun, which he uses to defeat the Gorn.

If you think about it, there’s no need for a 23rd Century Starship Captain to know how to mix and prepare gunpowder if the occasion called for it. After all, Starfleet officers fight with phasers and photon torpedoes. To them, gunpowder is obsolete. But the same drive for knowledge that drove Kirk to the stars also caused him to learn that bit of information, and it paid off several years later.

In the same way, no matter what your organization does, it helps to never stop learning. The more knowledge you have, the more creative you can be. The more you’re able to do, the more solutions you have for problems at your disposal. Sure, you might never have to face down a reptilian alien on a desert planet, but you never know what the future holds.

Knowledge is your best key to overcoming whatever obstacles are in your way.

2. Have Advisors With Different Worldviews

“One of the advantages of being a captain, Doctor, is being able to ask for advice without necessarily having to take it.”

Kirk’s closest two advisors are Commander Spock, a Vulcan committed to a philosophy of logic, and Dr. Leonard McCoy, a human driven by compassion and scientific curiosity. Both Spock and McCoy are frequently at odds with each other, recommended different courses of action and bringing very different types of arguments to bear in defense of those points of view. Kirk sometimes goes with one, or the other, or sometimes takes their advice as a springboard to developing an entirely different course of action.

However, the very fact that Kirk has advisors who have a different worldview not only from each other, but also from himself, is a clear demonstration of Kirk’s confidence in himself as a leader. Weak leaders surround themselves with yes men who are afraid to argue with them. That fosters an organizational culture that stifles creativity and innovation, and leaves members of the organization afraid to speak up. That can leave the organization unable to solve problems or change course. Historically, this has led to some serious disasters, such as Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

Organizations that allow for differences of opinion are better at developing innovation, better at solving problems, and better at avoiding groupthink. We all need a McCoy and a Spock in our lives and organizations.

3. Be Part Of The Away Team

“Risk is our business. That’s what this starship is all about. That’s why we’re aboard her.”

Whenever an interesting or challenging mission came up, Kirk was always willing to put himself in harm’s way by joining the Away Team. With his boots on the ground, he was always able to make quick assessments of the situation, leading to superior results. At least, superior for everyone with a name and not wearing a red shirt. Kirk was very much a hands-on leader, leading the vanguard of his crew as they explored interesting and dangerous situations.

When you’re in a leadership role, it’s sometimes easy to let yourself get away from leading Away Team missions. After all, with leadership comes perks, right? You get the nice office on the higher floor. You finally get an assistant to help you with day to day activities, and your days are filled with meetings and decisions to be made, And many of these things are absolutely necessary. But it’s sometimes easy to trap yourself in the corner office and forget what life is like on the front lines. When you lose that perspective, it’s that much harder to understand what your team is doing, and the best way to get out of the problem. What’s more, when you’re not involved with your team, it’s easy to lose their trust and have them gripe about how they don’t understand what the job is like.

This is a lesson that was actually imprinted on me in one of my first jobs, making pizzas for a franchise that doesn’t exist anymore. Our general manager spent a lot of time in his office, focused on the paperwork and making sure that we could stay afloat on the razor-thin margins we were running. But one thing he made sure to do, every day, was to come out during peak times and help make pizza. He didn’t have to do that, but he did. The fact that he did so made me like him a lot more. It also meant that I trusted his decisions a lot more. In much the same way, I’m sure, as Kirk’s crew trusted his decisions, because he knew the risks of command personally.

4. Play Poker, Not Chess

“Not chess, Mr. Spock. Poker. Do you know the game?”

In one of my all-time favorite Star Trek episodes, Kirk and his crew face down an unknown vessel from a group calling themselves the “First Federation.”  Threats from the vessel escalate until it seems that the destruction of the Enterprise is imminent. Kirk asks Spock for options, who replies that the Enterprise has been playing a game of chess, and now there are no winning moves left. Kirk counters that they shouldn’t play chess – they should play poker. He then bluffs the ship by telling them that the Enterprise has a substance in its hull called “corbomite” which will reflect the energy of any weapon back against an attacker. This begins a series of actions that enables the Enterprise crew to establish peaceful relations with the First Federation.

I love chess as much as the next geek, but chess is often taken too seriously as a metaphor for leadership strategy. For all of its intricacies, chess is a game of defined rules that can be mathematically determined. It’s ultimately a game of boxes and limitations. A far better analogy to strategy is poker, not chess. Life is a game of probabilities, not defined rules. And often understanding your opponents is a much greater advantage than the cards you have in your hand. It was knowledge of his opponent that allowed Kirk to defeat Khan in Star Trek II by exploiting Khan’s two-dimensional thinking. Bluffs, tells, and bets are all a big part of real-life strategy. Playing that strategy with an eye to the psychology of our competitors, not just the rules and circumstances of the game  can often lead to better outcomes than following the rigid lines of chess.

5. Blow up the Enterprise

“‘All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.’ You could feel the wind at your back in those days. The sounds of the sea beneath you, and even if you take away the wind and the water it’s still the same. The ship is yours. You can feel her. And the stars are still there, Bones.”

One recurring theme in the original Star Trek series is that Kirk’s first love is the Enterprise. That love kept him from succumbing to the mind-controlling spores in “This Side of Paradise,” and it’s hinted that his love for the ship kept him from forming any real relationships or starting a family. Despite that love, though, there came a point in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, where Captain Kirk made a decision that must have pained him enormously – in order to defeat the Klingons attacking him and save his crew, James Kirk destroyed the Enterprise. The occasion, in the film, was treated with the solemnity of a funeral, which no doubt matched Kirk’s mood. The film ends with the crew returning to Vulcan on a stolen Klingon vessel, rather than the Enterprise. But they returned victorious.

We are often, in our roles as leaders, driven by a passion. It might be a product or service, it might be a way of doing things. But no matter how much that passion burns within us, the reality is that times change. Different products are created. Different ways of doing things are developed. And there will come times in your life when that passion isn’t viable anymore. A time when it no longer makes sense to pursue your passion. When that happens, no matter how painful it is, you need to blow up the Enterprise. That is, change what isn’t working and embark on a new path, even if that means having to live in a Klingon ship for awhile.

Final Takeaway:

In his many years of service to the Federation, James Kirk embodied several leadership lessons that we can use in our own lives. We need to keep exploring and learning. We need to ensure that we encourage creativity and innovation by listening to the advice of people with vastly different opinions. We need to occasionally get down in the trenches with the members of our teams so we understand their needs and earn their trust and loyalty. We need to understand the psychology of our competitors and also learn to radically change course when circumstances dictate. By following these lessons, we can lead our organizations into places where none have gone before.

3 Golden Truths We Can Learn From The U.S. Women Olympic Team

Female athletes contributed 55% of America’s total medals and 66% of the gold metals. Without women pulling more than their fair share, America would probably have finished a distant second behind China in the medal count.

An Impressive Success!!!

Without question the women of the U.S. Olympic team turned in a specular performance at the 2012 London Olympics.   Their feats were even more remarkable when considering what they were able to collectively accomplish.

  • Of the 5 world records established by the U.S. Olympians during the games all were set by female athletes.  Highlighted by Rebecca Soni who broke her own world record in the 200 meter breaststroke.
  • Female athletes contributed 55% of America’s total medals and 66% of the gold metals. Without women pulling more than their fair share, America would probably have finished a distant second behind China in the medal count.
  • So dominant were the U.S. women that had they seceded to from the men and formed their own team, they would have been third in the medal count.

An impressive success indeed!!!

Our women did more than just kicked butt and took names in London; their extraordinary show of excellence provides three golden truths about gender equality.  These golden truths show the power that gender equality has not only in sports but in every walk of life and what is possible when our nation lives up to the creed; “That all “men and women” are created equal”.

Golden Truth Number One: Leveling the Playing Field Works

There are many reasons why the U.S. women were dominant, but one very clear one is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year: Title IX.   Title IX is a portion of the Education Amendments of 1972, mandating equality in college athletic and team sports for women.

Mary Jo Kane, director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, gave the legislation full marks in moving America toward dominance in women’s athletics.  “Title IX has fundamentally altered the landscape of what it means to be female and an athlete,” said Kane. “In one generation, we’ve gone from girls hoping there is a team to girls hoping they make the team.”

Golden Truth Number Two: The Distinctive Advantage Women Provide the U.S. Economy  

The United States Olympic Committee sent a total of 539 athletes 261 men 278 women to the Olympics in London to compete in 25 sports.  For the first time in its history, the U.S. was represented by more female than male athletes at an Olympic event.  208 of our athletes won at least one medal and as documented earlier 66% of those metal winners were women

Women comprise 50.9% of the U.S. population.  While countries we compete against like China have a higher number of females in their population the equal access to the tools of economic growth, education, jobs, and capital that the U.S. provides gives our nation a distinctive economic advantage.  Because like our Olympic team when we fully engage our half our population –women, the entire country benefits.   Data from the 2010 census provides strong evidence of the growing power of females in our economy

  • 38% of women 25 and older now hold a bachelor’s degrees a full 10% higher than the corresponding number for men.
  • 28% of all business are owned by women up from 10% from the 2000 census.
  •  7.5 million people are employed by women owned businesses.

 

Golden Truth Number Three: There is More Work to be Done

Despite the splendid performance of the U.S. Women Olympians every athlete knows that there is much more work to do.  Our women will be stiffly challenged in 2014 during the Sochi, Russia Winter Olympic Games.  Nations envious of our female achievements will be gunning for the Americans in 2016 as the games will be staged in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

There is also more work to be done on the economic stage along with the economic gains by woman sighted in the 2010 census we find these nagging realities:

  • Women earn 77.4 cents for every dollar earned by men
  • Women currently hold 4 percent of Fortune 500 CEO positions
  • The unemployment rate for men dropped more than 1 percent between 2009 and 2011, while women’s unemployment rate rose about half a percent during that same time.

The Bottom Line

While there’s no question that women’s sports lag behind men’s in attendance and funding, the performance of our woman’s Olympic team proves that Title IX has helped transform the landscape of women’s athletics. In the two generations after its passage, it’s no longer considered unusual for a girl to play sports growing up; indeed, it’s become more unusual for girls not to play a sport. With more girls starting sports, more girls have the opportunity to learn that they like them, and the more girls who play sports as kids, the more women who excel at sports as adults.

However, the torch must be passed from success on playing field to equality in the pay envelope, achievement in the board room, and reduction of the female unemployment rate.   If we can achieve this, the golden truth of the 2012 U.S. Woman’s Olympic team’s triumph will be a golden legacy of greatness for our country.

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The Marben Bland Group houses over 60 professional career consultants, business experts and social media strategies with  20  plus years of collective experience offering a wide range of social media, recruiting and job search services worldwide.

5 Guidelines for creating almost perfect email subject lines

Ah subject lines…

Those less than ten-word phrases that can entice your potential reader to actually chose your email out of the long list of email in the inbox.

Ah subject lines… aren’t they a joy to create?

I wish I could tell you that somewhere out there is the perfect subject line, one that could ensure your emails are opened.  However, I can tell you that creating almost perfect subject lines is possible and it starts with understanding certain guidelines about your readers 5 guidelines to be exact.

1. People do NOT like to have their time wasted

I don’t need to tell you how much people value their time. When it comes to your emails, you have at most, only a few minutes to get your message across. When it comes to your subject line, you have only a few seconds to capture their attention. It’s no surprise then that subject lines with less than 50 characters have open rates 12.5% higher than those with 50 or more, and click-through rates are 75% higher.

2. People won’t act unless told to do so

Before sending your email, stop and ask yourself: What action do I want the recipient to take?

Keep in mind your subject line will be the first impression you’re email has on your reader.   Making the subject it your first call-to-action will improve the likelihood of your email being opened and that action being taken.

3. People respond to numbers

Numbers help quantify any message and put the content people are receiving into terms they understand. Whether it’s a percentage (Learn how to grow your Facebook fan base by 400%) or a list (10 steps to getting more friends on Facebook) or a monetary value (How one business made $5,000 from marketing on Facebook)—numbers can take a complex problem like getting better results on Facebook and present it in a way people will respond to.

4. People are more likely to act when they feel a sense of urgency

Please do not take this as a call to add “ACT NOW!” or “LIMITED TIME OFFER!” to every one of your subject lines. But do take it as a call to consider using urgency to invigorate your customer base. This is especially true if you’re running a promotion, having a sale, or trying to drive attendance to an upcoming event. In these situations, the difference between using a subject line like: “Our annual end of summer sale is next week” or “Only 5 days until our end of summer sale begins” can be huge. One tells people you’re having a sale and the other tells people you’re having a sale and they better start getting ready.

5. People care more about the sender than the message

While the content of your email and the design of your subject line are important—nothing is more important than the relationship the recipient has with the sender (that’s you!). According to a recent Constant Contact study, 64% of people open emails because of the organization it is from; compared with 47% of people opening emails because of what is in the subject line.

Want the best results? Tell people who the email is from in the subject line.

Here are three ways to do that using my fictional business, Pinkham’s Pies:

[Pinkham’s Pies] We’re sharing our secret apple pie recipe

A secret pie recipe from Pinkham’s Pies

Pinkham’s Pies News: Our secret apple pie recipe revealed

The Bottom Line

Your e-mail competes with; other personal e-mails, e-mail marketing communications, work e-mail and those always welcomed joke emails!!!   To be heard above the noise your subject line must set you apart but at the same time you have to establish a connection with your readers that will compel them to open your email just because it is from you.  Ah those subject lines!!!!!

Power Up Your Business Card

I bet you have a stack of other people’s business cards somewhere around your workspace that you kind-of, sort-of, should really, do something with—if only you knew what/where/when/how and/or had the time to do it.

I am going to make a grand assumption…

I bet you have a stack of other people’s business cards somewhere around your workspace that you kind-of, sort-of, should really, do something with—if only you knew what/where/when/how and/or had the time to do it.

Am I right?

We all end up with this business card dilemma for two specific reasons.

  1. We don’t have a system in place to deal with incoming cards.
  2. You’ve been given business cards that are uninspiring and have no clear call to action

So, what do you do?

First: Business Cards = Jobs

So here’s the thing—some of those cards could belong to people who would be great connections for your job search.   AND if their cards end up lying around on your desk, YOUR cards might end up lying around on theirs!

Second: Each Business Card Deserves a Follow-Up Message

For every card you receive, you should make an effort to do some sort of follow-up with that person. This can be as simple as sending an email or give them a call. My idea of a good follow-up message goes something like this:

Hi [put their first name in here],

It was great to meet you at [wherever you met them], and I’d love to keep in touch. I’m going to send you a LinkedIn request, and I hope that you will accept.

[If there was something specific you talked about, refer to it here. Maybe send them a link to an article on the subject they might find interesting]

Take care, and I look forward to seeing you again soon.

[Your name]

Third: Make Sure Your Business Cards have a Clear Call to Action

If you’re tired of receiving business cards from other people that are uninspiring and give you no reason to follow-up, then learn from their mistakes.

Make sure your business cards provide a clear call to action so the receiver actually wants to follow-up.

Here’s what you should keep in mind when creating your business cards:

ALWAYS use double sided business cards.

On one side of your card, put your contact information—you don’t know how people will want to connect with you— so that means including your email, mobile phone number, and links to your Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook Page, website, etc.

Now, on the BACK of your card, put your call to action (CTA).  A CTA is simply what you are looking for.  The CTA will provide guidance to your new contact making it easier for them to help you.    You can also create a Quick Response Code (QR) that will create a smart phone readable scan connecting to your online resume, Y-Tube video, blog or other online content that will support your job search.

The Bottom Line: Now … get to it!

Now that you know how to use your business cards (and those you collect from others) to power your job search I urge you to put the information to work go from the business card to the job.