What We Can Learn from Captain Picard

I’m sure you’re all aware of Captain Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation and will understand why I’ve selected him as the first fictional character in this series.

Jean-Luc Picard, played by Patrick Stewart, was a stark contrast to William Shatner’s Captain Kirk in the original series, as he preferred to talk his way out of situations. During the seven seasons of the show and the four movies, we learned a lot about him and saw the benefits of his approach and leadership style.

Although he started off as a very abrasive and distant character, we soon got see a lot more of his personality as the show developed. Like the other features in this series, I’ll break it down into ‘the good’ and then ‘the bad’ before working out what's important.

The Good

There are some great leadership ideas presented by Picard. He always maintained his authority, he was always open to ideas and suggestions and he clearly lead by example. It’s also clear that his crew didn’t fear him as a person, but feared the risk of letting him down as they respected him and valued his opinion.

A practiced diplomat, Picard also preferred to negotiate and only reverted to force when it was absolutely necessary. He could fight though, and he was always ready to defend himself.

Picard was also extremely focused and motivated. It’s revealed in several episodes that a near fatal injury in his youth, brought on by an arrogant and irresponsible attitude, changed his life and encouraged him to seize opportunities. This lead to him to take command of the starship Stargazer as a junior officer, at a time of crisis when the captain was incapacitated, and it was the start of a long and distinguished career in command.

We can also learn valuable lessons from his approach. He respected other people’s culture and beliefs as well and we saw this a lot when he dealt with the Klingons.

He always set out to learn and develop and we often found him planning his next move in advance when he was presented with a challenging situation.

I think the most import thing to consider is that people respected him. He had an extremely loyal crew and most of the people he encountered considered him to be a man of integrity, or at least someone they should take seriously.

The Bad

The downside to Picard is that his drive to succeed and his total focus on his career left no time for family.

His awkwardness around children was highlighted early on in the show, where he would appear detached and cold, and he was never able to sustain a long-term relationship. 

His relationship with the archaeologist Vash was very significant, as he went to great lengths to conceal it from his crew. He even put them both of them in danger in the episode Qpid when he refused to accept help from his crew when he attempted to rescue her.

As the series developed, and we saw more of Picard’s family background, it became clear that he regretted the fact that he didn’t have a family. It was also clear that the decisions he made to end relationships wasn’t easy for him, and that it was difficult dealing with his complicated feelings for Beverly Crusher, his long time friend and colleague.

Picard was also careful to keep a clear distance from those he commanded and this often left him isolated on a personal level.

He would even come to regret this at the end of the series, when he joins them in a poker game and wonders why he didn’t do it years ago.

He also suffered significant mental and physical injuries after being abducted and controlled by The Borg. This lead him to not only consider leaving Starfleet, and everything he had worked for, but become vengeful and irrational whenever he encountered them. He often lost control in a spectacular fashion in these situations and we witnessed behaviour that was unthinkable by his standards.

What's Important

Overall, Captain Picard is a very positive role model and anyone in a leadership position can learn a lot from him. His journey also highlights the dangers of focussing and defining yourself on professional achievements, rather than balancing other aspects of your life with your work. He also shows us that it’s important to connect with people.

One of the most interesting things for me about Picard is revealed in the episode Tapestry, when he’s given the opportunity to go back in time and avoid the near fatal injury he sustained in a fight. He finds the life that followed was dramatically different from the one we saw in the series, as he’s a low ranking officer of no real importance and is very resentful at his perceived lack of opportunities. In short, he never looked for opportunities and didn't take chances.

It was his brush with death that gave him the motivation to take control and do what needed to be done.

His behaviour following his encounter with The Borg also shows us how important it is to acknowledge what’s going on inside us and do what we can to address it. It also shows us the dangers of losing control and that one explosive moment can undo so much hard work, and have lasting effects.

The most important thing I take from Picard though is the need to find strong motivation in life, and to have something to fight for. He also demonstrated that you don’t have to isolate yourself to lead and make a difference.