Battlestar Galactica Leadership Lessons In The Spotlight
Battlestar Galactica is one of the most popular and beloved shows ever created because of its strong focus on character development and its intricate and ever surprising storyline of love, loss, war, religion, politics, leadership and mythology, all set among the cosmos. But, are there any leadership lessons in Battlestar Galactica, you might ask?
Battlestar Galactica (BSG) is the story of the human race and its war with the Cylons, robots that act, feel and look like humans.
Cylons and humans were at peace until the Cylons destroyed the home of the human race, the planet Caprica, killing billions of people and forcing those who were left to escape into space with their small fleet and only an antiquated warship, the Battlestar Galactica, to protect them. The humans constantly face the threat of annihilation as they work to evade and fight the Cylons, and to find Earth, the birthplace of humanity.
The series is filled with tough leadership choices, many falling on the shoulders of Colonial President Laura Roslin.
Before the opening episode’s nuclear holocaust, she had been a low-ranking cabinet official with dozens of people ahead of her in line to succeed to the presidency. After all of them were wiped out in the initial attacks, she gamely assumed the mantle of democratic leadership, even though she had just been diagnosed with a fatal cancer.
A lesson to viewers is that real leadership matters.
Darkness has a legitimate place on television — no one wants to return to the unthinking camp TV of the 1970s — but only when it gives viewers all the more reason to cheer. We triumph when characters muscle through tragic circumstances and their own demons to make noble choices, acting with love and courage despite the odds.
Miracles don’t just happen, they take risk, good timing and massive action – usually in that order.
For all his flaws and his hang ups, Admiral Adama’s crew loved and respected him even if they didn’t agree with him. What carried him through? Was he always right? Was he always wise? Was he always fair? When did he make his best decisions? I have compiled the best leadership lessons from Battlestar Galactica below!
Lesson #1: Take Your Word For It
Good leaders can achieve the mechanical form of trust; great leaders can relate to and elevate the emotional aspects of humans at work. But this isn’t always easy in practice. There are many forces that make it hard to build trust including conflicting priorities, different personalities, and a lack of broad recognition or understanding of the importance of trust.
However, as a leader, you can choose to make trust a priority in your team and wider workplace.
Affective trust, known as ‘trust of the heart. is built by empathy, closeness and genuine feelings of concern and care. It’s characterized by feelings of security and perceived strength of the relationship, as well as the degree to which we think someone’s intentions are trustworthy, their ethics sound and their integrity whole. It is a type of interpersonal trust, strongly driven by emotion and relational factors.
When trust is low, in a company or in a relationship, it places a hidden tax on every transaction: every interaction, every decision is taxed, bringing speed down and sending costs up.
My experience is that significant distrust doubles the cost of doing business and triples the time it takes to get things done. By contrast, individuals and organizations that have earned and operate with high trust experience the opposite of a tax — a dividend that is like a performance multiplier, enabling them to succeed in their communications, interactions, and decisions, and to move with incredible speed.
High-trust cultures foster creativity, autonomy and motivation.
There is limited antagonism, hierarchy and competition between different business areas and levels, and people focus on collaborating to create the greatest impact for the organization. There is a blame-free culture. Feedback is provided and solicited regularly, and in all directions throughout the organization. People are highly engaged and feel supported to take calculated risks and learn from fast failures.
Falling short on commitments has become way too common and too easy to do. Following though on a promise is treated as if it was optional, rather than character building.
Trust is critical to all productive relationships. Many of the issues that hamper a team’s success can be directly traced to a lack of trust. When you dig deeper to uncover the reasons behind the trust issues, quite often you find that the leader does not follow through on what he or she says they will do. In effect, they over-promise and under-deliver. This practice is like shooting yourself in the foot and it is one of the quickest ways for a leader to break the trust bond with their people.
Conversely, the greatest leaders give their people the most freedom possible to make decisions, pushing authority down to the most foundational level.
Employees free from over-control and micromanaging acquire a sense of empowerment that raises productivity and innovation. As much as one of my staff makes me look good, and I want to keep them in that spot forever, my desire for their growth and for their career path has to be more important than my desire to look good. And the crazy thing is that once staff realize that you don’t hold people back, and instead create opportunities for them, you will end up attracting more of those kind of people.
Lesson #2: All For One and One For All
I believe that everyone wants to belong to something important. We want to know that our efforts can be multiplied and made into something bigger and better than we could create on our own. When you build a strong community, its members are clear about what they care about together. They are connected to the vision — the big idea.
Keep in mind that high-performing teams don’t materialize out of the ether.
They require careful cultivation from a team leader with a strong sense of team values, goals, and code of ethics. Without this leadership from the top, your employees are simply co-workers. It’s up to you to them an actual team.
If you treat people like machines they won’t trust you and will end up planning your demise.
You want your employees to be part of a team, but you must also have perspective: these are individuals with stories of their own. They got this far in life without your company, and they presumably have rich and varied lives when they leave work each day. It is important to not regard team members as bodies who will perform tasks. A robust team environment blossoms when individuals are honored and respected for their unique gifts and their ability to contribute toward your common goal.
If you want to know how to build an effective team, you must learn how to be an effective leader first.
Only an effective leader has influence even when they are not around. That influence pushes the team to work effectively throughout all group and individual activities. You’re the leader, so you do need some authority. However, show your human side to your workers and they will be more willing to follow your lead.
Two heads are better than one, many hands make light work and alone you can do a little, together we can do a lot.
No man is an island, especially in a business organization. Everyone in the organization needs someone else’s help sometime or another, either as part of the regular workflow or during emergencies. Whether it’s the CEO or the cleaning lady, every person in an organization has to consider himself or herself as part of a team in order for a business to function smoothly. The moment a “That’s not my job!” attitude appears, you have the makings of a dysfunctional organization.
Belonging is an experience in which a person feels connected, supported, and respected when as a member of a collective, their authenticity is valued.
It’s not enough to simply include people at the table, but to amplify everyone’s voices, clear barriers and appreciate each other for our unique backgrounds. Belonging is being accepted for you. Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else. Helping people find a sense of belonging leads to them being fully engaged to their work. It causes people to tap into their discretionary energy to accomplish the goals of the organization versus settling for just fitting in and doing the minimum to get by.
Lesson #3: Give Them Straight Talk
Honest, to-the-point, say-what-you-mean leadership communication — in other words, straight talk — is one of the most crucial aspects of success and effective teamwork. Yet, most leaders shy away from it, choosing instead to tiptoe around important conversations.
It sounds simple, but it’s not easy to create this type of trusted atmosphere, where people feel the freedom to speak openly, honestly and respectfully.
Let’s face it. Straight, honest, no nonsense communication in organizations today is more rare than common. Whether it’s fear of reprisal, natural timidity, or not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings, many of us avoid telling the truth when the truth needs to be told. Leading with transparency requires a willingness to be honest and open with your employees.
When you lead with transparency, you set a standard for the rest of the company to live by.
The importance of transparency in leadership becomes more apparent as it fosters a workplace culture of open communication for both employees and leaders. Withholding information often leads to misunderstandings and unmet expectations. Leading with transparency helps you ensure that both employee and leaders expectations are appropriately set and fulfilled. With clear, open, and frequent communication, employees are less likely to make false assumptions about their job.
Being transparent is a powerful thing, if you can trust yourself and be trusted by others.
Most leaders are not transparent because they believe they will be viewed as less authoritative; that the credentials they worked so hard to attain will lose their power. This is the problem with most leaders, they are not aware of the reality that exists around them. People want to relate to its leaders. People want to know that their leaders have experienced the same problems and/or how they have overcome personal hardships.
When you’re the kind of boss that people can be honest with, good things happen. People start to open up and you really connect.
Those connections bring your team together. Work life is more pleasant and your team is more effective. It’s a win-win. If you’re the only person who knows about the company’s strategy and goals, your team has to come to you for help. But if they know pretty much everything you know, they can make smart decisions on their own.
Leadership requires bravery. You must realize hiding makes things worse.
Putting yourself forward to take the flack — especially if it isn’t something directly you were involved with — requires bravery. It takes honesty. It requires us to be self-less, which gains respect and appreciation from others. When things are going badly you have to act. Make big decisions. Take responsibility.
Leadership is not about always feeling confident.
Like everyone else, leaders don’t always have their confidence — they have uncertainty and doubts as we all do. Some people think of that as something to hide or bluff their way through, but leaders are strongest when they demonstrate transparency and vulnerability — traits that equal truth and courage. They may not be comfortable, but they’re certainly not weakness.
Lesson #4: You Can't Sit On The Fence
There is definitely something wrong with people who sit on the fence, those who refuse to get involved, those who will not lift a finger or raise their voices to correct a wrong or help others. They are like the load that the rest of us have to carry along. They do not make things better, they are just occupying their share of the world and making no contributions.
In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.
When your organization needs clear direction and decisive action, a waffling leader can cause more harm than good. Sometimes leaders hesitate to act with decisiveness because they think too narrowly, are biased by personal values and short-term emotions, or are looking back and reconsidering previous decisions and their results. As a leader, you must master the ability to make the difficult decisions, ones that only you can make, sometimes even with very limited information.
The afraid to fail trap seems to be the most common barrier leaders face when decision making is at hand.
If honest with ourselves, most would admit that we struggle with even the thought of failure in large part because we allow ourselves to wrap up our identity in the failure. If you are unwilling to move ahead for the fear of falling down, then how will you ever know if you can pick yourself back up? Do not be afraid to fail. Failures, mistakes, bumps, bruises and scars are what you will find as the primary learning tools in any great leaders bag.
Be in it to win it or leave the race. Nothing good comes from being in the middle of the road.
Your leadership will be disappointed in your performance and your attitude. Your peers will notice your lack of Engagement. And those that do not know you well will brand that as part of your personality and your skill set. And you will be unhappy and feel increasingly disengaged and alone. That is a position that no one wants to be in at work. Therefore, we encourage you to pick a struggle. Pick a side.
Those who make decisions always take a risk.
They are well aware that most people are heavily influenced by the outcome bias and will accuse them of making a bone-headed decision if things don’t work out. That fear of being blamed makes the status quo look like the safer option, even though it may not be. By nature, people resist to changes and therefore, decision makers usually have a strong bias toward alternatives that prolong the status quo.
Basing your decisions on other people’s opinions is a good way to find yourself dissatisfied and unfulfilled.
We’re human. We want to be part of a group, appreciated and liked by our peers. When we think of the right choice, too often we allow our decision to be guided by our perception of what other people might think about our choice. The truth is, we all make bad choices from time to time. When we rely more on what other people think than our own values, we increase the likelihood of making a bad decision.
It’s tempting to think about the short-term repercussions of your decisions as a worst-case scenario, but try thinking about the long term instead.
If the current decision you’re making is the wrong one, how will this affect your life in three years? What about five years? Most bad decisions can be recovered from in the span of a year or two — even the big ones — so don’t beat yourself up over the worst-case possibilities. This is also a way to distance yourself from the equation.
Lesson #5: Fall On Your Sword
What leaders often fail to acknowledge is their role in the errors. This lack of leadership accountability can cause problematic issues to continue repeating. This, in turn, causes a decrease in employee morale as frustration and devaluation increase.
Being accountable means you are answerable and willing to accept the outcomes or results of a project or activity.
But responsibility goes much further. It is the mindset that says, “I am the person who must make this happen,” whether it stems from your belief or because your job requires this of you, or there is some social force binding you to this obligation. It influences how the leader behaves with subordinates; but is equally strong in the relationship with an immediate boss and with other departments in the organization. Finally, it encompasses an overall set of values and attitudes.
If a leader takes accountability for something, it means they’re taking full ownership of it. They’re holding themselves accountable for its success or failure.
Let’s say you made a bad strategic decision. As a result, the entire company is working overtime to put out multiple fires. Instead of brushing everything under the rug or blaming those who were part of the decision-making process, you publicly take ownership of your mistake, explains how you plan to avoid a similar outcome in the future, and thanks all the employees for their hard work and understanding. This is an example of a highly accountable leader.
All too often, people account for their unfulfilled promises by giving a circumstance-based explanation for why the result wasn’t produced.
When someone is being accountable they are able to lay out the actions they took and the actions they did not take that led to an outcome. This includes responding to the inevitable circumstances one encounters. Specifically addressing what you did or did not do to effectively respond to these events and circumstances needs to happen when you fulfill your commitment and when you don’t.
Making mistakes is a part of a leadership journey. This doesn’t mean being a reckless leader.
It means being responsible for why things didn’t work out in your favor and in what way could you have approached a problem. A responsible leader also knows the subject-matter experts in the team and empowers them during the crisis so that no unpredicted situation befalls the organization. To be a great leader is an ongoing process and to make sure you are developing as one, here are some reasons why admitting to your mistakes is essential.
Instead of insisting on being right or blaming others, leaders should consider alternative viewpoints, even if it contradicts their current beliefs.
Leaders will often make assumptions about the mistake, why it happened and who caused it because they’re viewing the situation from their own perspective. They should take time to clarify what actually happened by asking the people they’re working with to share their recollection of events.
Admitting mistakes gives others permission to make them too. And when they make a mistake those you lead will be more willing to share the mistake.
A leader who opens up about his or her mistakes is showing others it is safe to do the same. When leaders open up; their teams become more efficient because they admit when they need help, admit when they make a mistake or even apologize if necessary – all healthy behaviors on teams.
Lesson #6: Don't Jump Ship
The reason resiliency is so important is that someone needs to lead when others cannot. Someone needs to be the rock when others turn to sand under the pressures of work and life. If you are a resilient leader, you are able to become that solid foundation so that your company don’t crumble under the unexpected pressure.
Great leaders tend to show courage when every other person cowers.
They want to make an impact and where else can you make an impact by going at challenges head on. Rather than dilly-dally or make excuses, they take charge and stare at the task at hand with optimism and bravery. Yes even in the face of adversity and struggles, they have greater reason to swing forward rather than turn around.
As a leader, it’s important that you demonstrate resiliency for your colleagues at work.
Someone with resilient leadership is someone who demonstrates the ability to see failures as minor setbacks, with the tenacity to bounce back quickly. In difficult times, your people are looking to you for emotional strength and courage as you remain positive and look for new opportunities. They’re looking for you to set the direction and light the path.
In a volatile, uncertain, and ever-changing world, leadership can seem like you’re being hit from all sides with obstacles and challenges.
But no matter how often they fall, some leaders just keep bouncing back — even thriving and getting ahead. When adversity strikes — which it always does – a resilient person views it as temporary and tries to find a path forward. No matter who you lead, you will have bad days and stressful times. If you build resilience, you’ll be able to handle these times better and stay in your role for longer, helping you to gain credibility.
The best leaders are those who can face adversity and turnaround their companies from times of trouble to positions of strength.
Throughout history, the leaders who were feted and achieved fame are those who took charge during times of crisis and managed to actualize victory. Similarly, in recent decades, the business world has seen a surfeit of leaders who stepped in when their companies were going through a rough patch and with their leadership ensured that they could revive and rejuvenate their companies.
When you’re a leader, your reaction will determine whether the adversity will consume you and your team, or whether you’ll not only survive, but thrive from it.
Though you can’t always control the adverse conditions you’re faced with, you can control your reaction to them through resiliency. Resiliency is what you need when everything blows up in your face. When these events happen, a true leader will not panic. They will stay focused on what matters and is most import to them and the team. They have a knack for taking this adversity, dealing with it and looking for the hidden opportunities. Leaders understand challenges are everywhere and remain flexible when the unexpected happens. They then take charge and keep everyone moving forward.
Lesson #7: Beat The Odds
Throughout history and continuing into the present, many of the world’s greatest leaders have defied tremendous odds to become the powerful, influential people who inspired — and in many cases continue to inspire — countless people across the globe.
The real test of leadership does not occur when everything is smooth sailing. Rather, leadership is oftentimes tested during a crisis.
The way a leader behaves and acts during a crisis will establish their credentials as a good leader or a poor one. In an immediate crisis, a work environment can very quickly devolve chaos because of all the emotions running high, with stress and fear being at the forefront. It is imperative for a leader to take control and stop the panic from spreading.
Leaders are the people that are the most capable and strongest spirits among the troops.
They are made leaders because they know how to handle any adversary who comes in front of them. That’s why a leader has to have a singular trait that renders all the traits useless and that is confidence. A leader should be, above all else, confident. They need to be steadfast when they take charge of their troops and they need to make all of their decisions on pure facts and crystal-clear information.
As a leader, you should always be ready. Ready to wreak havoc, ready to turn around to save the company if the crisis wreaks havoc.
The team members, when they will see that their leader will never waver, they will become more confident and productivity levels will increase to the point that if a crisis comes forth, the company will start to recover from the crisis and no damage would be done. And all of this happens just because the leader never panics and never surrenders.
When a crisis hits, there is no time for a manager who is frantic and disorganized.
Without self-control, it is easy for a manager to fall into the grip of panic and be at the mercy of their feelings. A manager who can exhibit strong self-control even in the midst of crisis is much more capable of making rational decisions, communicating clearly, and working to effectively solve the problem.
Intelligent leaders know that desperate situations call for bold new strategies. They do not let fear distract them.
This may involve improved systems or innovation. They know that speed will be key and are not afraid to be move decisively. If a successful leader is emotionally intelligent, he or she will be able to lead the team with great empathy. He will be able to radiate energy with an upbeat attitude. An example of a successful leader in a crisis was the New York Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, during the 9/11 disaster. He was able to demonstrate that the leadership was in control which was vital to people who were in a state of shock.
The problem with many leaders is that there is a gap between what they want to see happen and the courage it takes to get there.
To accomplish a radically new future, you will have to do radically different things. This scares the socks off of most of us. After all, risk is for risk-takers, and many of us are not crazy risk-takers. Keep in mind that being vulnerable sets you up for accepting the failure that inevitably accompanies risk…that failure you’re so scared of. Being vulnerable today will prepare you for a bit of failure tomorrow on your way to greater accomplishments.
So Say We All
You don’t have to be a sci-fi nerd to watch Battlestar Galactica, but it helps. From the first episode, which aired from 2005, you’re hopelessly addicted. The plotline, which brilliantly and intricately unfolds throughout its 4 seasons will have you gasping, laughing, fist-pumping, will leave you perplexed and finally, astounded.
At the heart of it, though, Admiral Adama is just a really kind, fun guy; but he also demands respect.
He’s earned his place at the top and he’s a damned good leader! The Bill Adama grimace is something all fans will recognize, and something I bet we all wish we could imitate in everyday life if things are getting a bit tetchy.
Great leaders rely on advisors, team members and even contrarians to help them make decisions.
Admiral William Adama vets most of his plans with core staff and confidants. This act of confiding is what keeps the military, and the humans it protects, safe. Leaders who choose to isolate themselves often lose sight of their mission and values.
Your team is everything. When you are faced with the threat of extinction, it’s important to trust your team, and training them is key.
Like on Battlestar Galactica, you must understand your craft and constantly strive to improve yourself and those around you. Never stop training and learning. And always, always commit as much time, energy and resources as possible into making your team strong.
As a leader, you will want to step up even when you’re not sure you can.
In Battlestar Galactica, humans commit remarkable acts against impossible odds and all expectations. Admiral William Adama is the captain of a relic of a ship with a crew that has never seen combat, yet they mobilize after the Cylon attack and almost single-handedly save what’s left of the human race.
It won’t be an easy journey. It’ll be long, and arduous. But I promise you one thing: on the memory of those lying here before you, you shall master it, and leadership shall become your new home. So say we all!
Would real people in real situations really behave the way that they do in Battlestar Galactica? Perhaps, and perhaps not. The question is: how do you think you would do if facing the a crushing life event or situation? I’d be glad to head from you in the comments below!