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What leaders can learn from Captain James T. Kirk

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger

Captain Kirk of the starship Enterprise is 90 – or rather, William Shatner, the original actor who play him is. As a leader it was Kirk’s unorthodox approach that often won the day. In one famous incident surrounded by Klingon birds of prey, hopelessly out gunned and with the ships shields failing he appeared to have no alternative but to surrender to merciless enemies.

Not Kirk, he convinced the surrounding Klingons that rather than allow his ship to be boarded and his crew taken prisoners he would press the self destruct button. Fearing his plan was to take them with him the Klingon ships retreated to a safe distance allowing Captain Kirk and the Enterprise to escape. This was a classic Kirk bluff and as resent research by the University of Waterloo in Canada appears to confirm bluffing is a skill which denotes above average intelligence, it’s also a very useful leadership skill.

I spent a huge part of my career managing change which meant a lot of time negotiating with staff groups and TU reps. A fair amount of bluffing went on in these meetings. I am not talking about issuing threats more a case of giving the appearance of being more confident about your stance, your support and your ability to see things through than was sometimes the case.

Like many senior managers I found that the frequent restructuring and reorganisations that take place in large organisations resulted in finding myself responsible for parts of the business that I had no background in or previous knowledge of. Getting to grips quickly with a new portfolio and a new brief is an essential skill but in the meantime some bluffing is required.

If partner agencies, funders or  board members felt I didn’t know what I was talking about they would lose confidence in me so in the short term it was necessary to give the impression I knew more than I did. Whenever possible I reduced the risk of having my lack of knowledge exposed by having the relevant head of service by my side. But the thing about bluffing is it only works if you restrict your bluffing to the occasional or as in this  example in the short term whilst you get up to speed. The Klingons won’t fall for it twice.

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