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Leadership lessons from JT Kirk

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I have been meaning to write something about leadership for a while now and the forthcoming RPS Conference 2013 has stimulated me to do this now…

First things first… many of you younger people may not be too familiar with the original Star Trek so here is a summary of the main characters:

James T Kirk (Captain).  Quite possibly the greatest fictional leader of all time taking the Starship Enterprise to places where no man has gone before.

Mr Spock (Science officer): Logical thinker, scientific minded, attention to detail, objective

Dr McCoy (Physician): Emotional, argumentative, caring, passionate, wants to do the right thing, person centred

Mr Scott (Chief Engineer): Technical expert, problem solver, unconventional thinker

Here are five important leadership lessons taken directly from an article in the Forbes magazine with my pharmacy slant added.

Never stop learning

Never stop learning is an obvious lesson; no leader can ever say that they do not need to learn more, those that do quickly become obsolete.

Change is continuous in the NHS and pharmacy leaders need to change how they lead their staff through change; they need to keep up their learning both about the changes and the long term vision of the NHS. The Francis Report is a case in point where there is an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others.

Have advisors with different worldviews

Having advisors with different worldviews is really important. Weak leaders surround themselves with yes men who are afraid to argue with them. Kirk’s closest two advisors were 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 often clashed with each other, recommended different courses of action and brought very different types of arguments to bear in defence of those points of view.  As Kirk once said ‘One of the advantages of being a captain, Doctor, is being able to ask for advice without necessarily having to take it’.  It is often easier to lead when people do not enter into constructive conflict or do not understand other peoples’ worldviews; pharmacy leaders must give equal importance to junior staff on the front line as they do to their senior teams.

Be part of the away team

Being part of the away team really means that it is easy to forget what life is like on the frontline.  When you lose that perspective it is more difficult to understand what is actually going on. Plus if you do not engage with staff it is easy for trust to be lost and have staff complaining about how you don’t understand what their job is like. Kirk was always part of the away teams and his crew trusted his decisions because he knew the risks of command personally.  I would suggest that leadership is about working on the frontline, understanding the pressures and making real-time decisions as much as it is about working in an office making strategic decisions.

Play poker, not chess

Play poker, not chess is about decision making, particularly in the current financial climate. Chess is a game of defined rules that can be mathematically determined. A far better analogy to strategy is poker, not chess. Life is a game of probabilities, not defined rules; it is about taking risks and being allowed to do so. Sometimes making decisions based on hunches and bluffs are just as successful as the formulaic ones laid down by policies and procedures.  In a risk averse profession such as pharmacy, leaders must have confidence to take risks and not fear failure but must not do this without real engagement and consultation.

Blow up the Enterprise

In Star Trek 3: The search for Spock, Kirk blew up the enterprise to save the Federation. Sometimes it is important to let go of what you hold dear for the bigger benefit.  This may include a service that is no longer fit for purpose or ways of working that are more efficient.  In the film, blowing the Enterprise was treated as a sombre occasion with the same respect as grievance on the death of someone close. People react differently to radical change in similar ways to someone who is grieving so be aware of this when leading a team because you, as the leader, will be different to whoever went before you.

These leadership lessons really hit the nail on the head for me so I thought I would share them with you!

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