Weekly Wrap: What Logical Lessons Managers Can Learn From Mr. Spock

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Feb 27, 2015

Mr. Spock has died. He lived long, and prospered.

Of course, Star Trek‘s Mr. Spock, the character, will still be around because fictional people never really go away, but Leonard Nimoy, the wonderful actor who brought Spock to life, will not. He died in February 2015 at age 83.

Trekkies will know this, but in the Star Trek universe, Spock was from the planet Vulcan, a place where a strict adherence to logic had helped Vulcans rise above personal emotions that had once threated to wipe out their civilization. . It also made for a great plot line where Vulcans became the perfect aliens to have “first contact” with the human race (depicted in the film Star Trek: First Contact) in 2063.

I won’t be around for that, but maybe some more youthful TLNT readers will see how our “first contact” really goes.

OK, I know, I know  — what does all this have to do with talent management and HR, anyway?

“You wanted this guy on your side”

Here’s one logical answer: Spock, at least as he was personified by Leonard Nimoy in the original Star Trek TV series and subsequent movies, was just about the perfect manager, and the kind of guy every executive wants as their No. 2.

Steve Arneson wrote about this a few years ago on Here’s what he said:

Spock (Leonard Nimoy) was a Vulcan (don’t ask) and served as (Capt.) Kirk’s first officer. He was a weird dude (something was going on with his ears), but was one really smart cat. Whatever the highest IQ is, Spock topped that by 1,000 points. World-class smart. He would have trounced Watson on Jeopardy. When Kirk needed the odds, or an angle, or anything that had to do with logic, you knew where he was going… right to Spock. Spock was the strategic thinker – the analytic, objective, answer guy. He could analyze data in a blink of an eye, and was calm in a crisis; you wanted this guy on your side if you needed some quick advice about well, anything (although he wasn’t great if things got “illogical”).”

The sometimes maddening thing about Spock was that he was so logical that he was unemotional and passionless, and many argue that this isn’t the greatest quality for a leader or manager.

“Who is the best leader?”

A blog post on The addressed this back in 2013 when it said:

There is an interesting psychological study at the heart of the Star Trek universe that is reflected in the characters of Captain James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock. Captain Kirk is the hotheaded passionate leader – who follows his heart and his gut – as he works his way through various diplomatic liaisons or tricky tactical situations (often resorting to punching his way out of either) while Mr. Spock is the cold face of reason and logic; the counterpoint to Kirk in almost every way. The tension of the relationship poses questions such as who is right? Who makes the best decisions? Who is the best leader?

In some ways the assumption or conclusion (whichever way you look at it) in the Star Trek universe is that to be truly logical is somewhat alien. Spock is the ultimate straight man – the humor in Star Trek is frequently displayed in Spock’s inability to think something is funny or to be engaged emotionally. Kirk on the other hand shows us that to be human is to be passionate – and somewhat irrational – but that this human trait can be a strength as much as a weakness. If leaders have no passion – and therefore no sense of conviction behind their actions – then do we value their decisions? After all, the choices we tend to respect (if we are affected by the decision) are ones that elevate people, and we have to be emotional, we have to care, to make those sorts of choices.”

Fulfilling the managerial role others need us to play

I don’t buy the argument that great leaders need to be overly emotional or full of passion, although there are some situations where that certainly helps. What I do buy though, is Spock as the ultimate First Officer. He’s the guy who is always ready and willing to step in for the Captain whenever needed, to do whatever must be done.

He doesn’t desire the Captain’s job, of course, but he does try to carry out the Captain’s wishes to the best of his ability — as most good subordinate managers try to do.

Leonard Nimoy, the actor who personified Spock, struggled to have a successful career outside the Star Trek films and shows, as The Washington Post points out, because Nimoy struggled with how fans only seemed to identify Nimoy the Actor with Spock the Vulcan.

Of course, that’s another management lesson worth remembering — as managers, we frequently must fulfill the role others want (and need) us to play. It may not always be what we want, but it is usually what the organization needs.

Star Trek‘s Mr. Spock understood this, and I suspect Leonard Nimoy the actor did, too. Live long, and prosper.