6 Lessons on Business from Star Trek: Voyager’s Captain Janeway

The Whirlpool Galaxy (Spiral Galaxy M51, NGC 5...

Where no *woman* had gone before

It’s never a bad idea to look to fiction for inspiration about leadership, because fictional characters quite often represent our ideals. Even if you’re not a science fiction fan, sci-fi heroes are excellent role models, because they deal with the same thing you do: the unknown.

No where is that more true than in the Star Trek universe. The captains in each of the series each had very distinctive leadership styles, and met the challenges they encountered in different ways. And while much has been said about the male captains, very little has ever been done about Captain Kathryn Janeway, the only female captain to date. So without further ado, here’s six lessons you can learn from a kick-ass leader.

1. Stop being their mother! Perhaps unsurprisingly, the writers of Star Trek: Voyager didn’t quite know how to handle a strong female leader. For the first part of the series, she kept vacillating between being all maternal, weepy, and mushy, and being captain. It took them three seasons for the writers to get it right: Janeway was not their mom. And neither are you. It’s one thing to care about your staff, it’s another to consciously or unconsciously make decisions about staff performance based on your maternal instincts. Being too nice could be holding you back.

2. Get a good 2IC. While the buck stops with you, it doesn’t hurt to have a second-in-command (2IC) who will check your assumptions when they need it and who can shoulder some of the burden — especially the legwork. Janeway had the extremely logical (and loyal) Tuvok on her side, and he was able to give her solid, objective advice when she wanted a gut check.

3. Take time off. No, really off. This one still tends to be tougher for women than for men, because statistics show a lot of us still bear the bulk of the home burden as well. But here it is: you need a chunk of time off every week where you do something that is completely unrelated to work and family. And stop feeling guilty about it. Janeway, even though she was guiding a whole crew of people through treacherous space, regularly did time on the holodeck (think really awesome 3D TV). You need to escape too. Your business and family will be better for it.

4. Don’t give up. Business can be such a roller coaster, can’t it? One day, you’re breaking all time revenue records, and the next day it seems every customer you have hates your guts. Or the office drama meter has just dialed up. Or both. Hang in there. Janeway’s mission was to take her crew back home but the catch was that it was going to be a 75-year journey (long story, literally). She had plenty of reasons to throw in the towel. She never did.

5. Shortcuts aren’t cheating. That said, there’s no reason you have to do it the hard way all the time. Always be on the lookout for faster, better ways to get things done. (That time off I mentioned above? It’s crucial for being able to see ways to do this clearly). Janeway took every opportunity she got to speed things up and as a result she got her crew home in seven years, not 75.

6. Demand more and state your expectations clearly. When Janeway learned that three crew members weren’t up to spec, she took them on an away mission; they ended up being attacked by (what else?) aliens, but fortunately, the crew members rose to the occasion. While I’m hoping that aliens aren’t a factor in your business, you also need to set firm deadlines, and clearly outlined deliverables and expectations for your staff. They can’t reach if you don’t show them where the goal is.



  1. Ummm . . . Janeway’s second-in-command was Commander Chakotay. Lieutenant Commander Tuvok was Voyager’s security and tactical officer. And while Janeway was often compassionate about her crew’s personal problems, I don’t remember her ever having issues with standing her ground and wielding authority. Just saying. And Janeway did NOT take a number of available shortcuts throughout the series because of various ethical dilemmas. They were stranded in the Delta Quadrant in the first place because of her strong commitment to ethical action. A better choice might have been the way that she stuck to her guns and didn’t use unethical (or in today’s business world, “illegal”) shortcuts to make their trip shorter or easier.

    On the noncritical side, awesome to see Star Trek’s only female captain referenced in a business article!

    • i agree with exactly what you have sed and i for one will not back up anything that hurts my customers as the saying goes the customer is always right no matter what… best business eticate out shame that many businesses forget it today…

  2. Thanks for your comment! While it’s true Chakotay was technically the second-in-command, he was originally Maquis, so for the first part of the series, Janeway depended on Tuvok for advice.

    You bring up a good point about ethics, and it’s very true she never took a shortcut if there was a moral dilemma involved.

    • Awesome article. Yes, Star Trek’s strong, ethical, caring, intelligent captain had it all, that makes a business succeed in the long run.

  3. I prefer Starfleet ethics over the Ferengi Rules of Aquisition. :]

    • Those Ferengi could be tough stuff! Thanks for commenting. :)


  1. Some readers don’t get it: And other reasons to stop Star Trek analogies : BusinessJournalism.org Reynolds Center for Business Journalism - May 8, 2012

    [...] from the make-believe James Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard.  NeverPink even goes so far as to offer Kathryn Janeway as a role [...]

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