What makes a leader?
While posing several unique moral and ethical questions, Star Trek’s sixteenth episode, The Galileo Seven, particularly takes a hard look at the role of a leader while juxtaposing the personas and philosophies of two very different commanders.
Martin Chemers, a social psychologist who specializes in leadership and team/organizational effectiveness, provided what many experts consider to be the definitive definition of leadership, positing that it is a “process of social influence in which one person is able to enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task.”
Throughout Star Trek, we see both Kirk and Spock exemplify Chemers’ definition, however the two characters starkly differ in their philosophies on how to lead. Kirk generally acts as the idealist, while on the other hand Spock counters as the realist; simply put: emotion vs. reason or logic. Many of the challenges faced in Star Trek are met by the teamwork between Kirk and Spock and by how their differing philosophies compliment each other in the end. However, The Galileo Seven attempts to illuminate the contrast between these two, and the need for their cooperation, by separating them in isolated situations.
The plot of the episode immediately separates Kirk and Spock through the shuttle craft Galileo. The Galileo, containing Spock, Dr. McCoy, Scotty, and four other members of the crew, crash lands on a planet They find themselves out of range from the Enterprise’s sensors, after investigating a “quasar-like formation” (a quasar is the name given to an energetic and active galactic nucleus, more information here).
While on the surface of the planet, Spock quickly takes command of the situation, although his strict logic-based leadership style appears heartless and callous as it clashes with the fears of the surviving members of the crash. With the daunting fact that the damaged Galileo cannot sustain all seven crew members if they attempt a take-off, and the growing improbability of contact with the Enterprise, Spock’s treatment of the fellow survivors comes off as cold and calculating – treating humans as capital, or numbers, rather than living beings.
Meanwhile, on the Enterprise, Kirk faces the task of taking on a ‘needle in a haystack’ search for his lost crew members and friends as the clock ticks to get much needed medical supplies to a Federation planet ravaged by plague. Famous for his refusal to believe in a no-win scenario, Kirk whittles away at time as he searches for the Galileo and the seven crewmembers despite unreliable sensor readings through the quasar phenomenon. Kirk truly believes he can find his friends and colleagues while still delivering the medical supplies in time. This belief, much to the dismay of Commissioner Ferris whose job it is to see the supplies arrive on time, is carried by Kirk’s unchallenged optimism and idealism.
Referring back to Chemers’ definition of leadership, throughout the course of this episode, Kirk and Spock do not exemplify individuals who are able to use their social influence in enlisting the aid and support of others to accomplish their goals. The two spend much of the episode at odds with members of their team and refuse to come to terms with their own infallibility and shortcomings. However, it is this contradiction of leadership wherein lies the true theme of this story.
Together, the characters of Kirk and Spock represent two parts of what makes a great leader. This allegory is challenged as the two split apart, acting out separately as individual sides to the same coin.
In a Forbes article from April of this year, contributor Micha Kaufman looks at this concept from an entrepreneurial standpoint. He points out that, without idealists, “there would be no innovation, no fresh ideas that change the world,” and without realists, “no business could hope to sustain itself.” With that in mind, Kaufman puts forth the idea that an entrepreneur, or a leader, must strike a balance between the two in order to create a successful start-up or lead a successful business. This notion remains unchallenged outside of the business world – holding just as true in the space opera scenarios of Star Trek as in the daily lives of you and me.
Individually, Kirk and Spock are able to progress through the story just long enough before they must meet each other halfway in order to succeed and overcome the challenges they face. This proves that together they can strike the balance between realism and idealism or logic and emotion, bring out the best of each quality from each other, and motivate and inspire the rest of the crew.