Aug. 25, 2020

DS9: Meridian

The magic of a welcoming and inclusive work environment.


On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Meridian. He will examine the leadership approaches of Commander Sisko and Major Kira.

In this episode, Sisko and the inhabitants of Meridian demonstrate the value of a welcoming and inclusive work environment.

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Episode Transcript

Transcript

Welcome, everyone! Thank you so much for listening. I very much appreciate you choosing to spend your time with me. Last time I had some pretty critical things to say about Captain Archer and some of you disagreed with me. That’s great! I love the feedback. I want everyone to know, though, I will be honest with what I feel and see in these episodes. Star Trek is loaded with great leadership examples - that’s the entire inspiration for this podcast! But, like any form of media, or any leader, or any person, it will have lessons or moments that are not great examples. And that’s ok! We’re leaders and we’re Star Trek fans - we take the good with the bad! And with that, let’s get to it - Deep Space 9, Meridian.

<<Transporter>>  

Kira replicates a mid-90’s coffee cup and explains to Odo the best way to enjoy food. Fun back and forth where Odo talk about trying to eat <It was unsatisfying and messy> Tiron walks up to the two of them and, it’s Jeffrey Combs! His very first Star Trek appearance ever; this episode is historical for this if nothing else! He is uncomfortably in to Kira which leads to her putting Odo in the very awkward position of being her “lover.” You know, that thing where you’re hanging out with your unrequited love that you’ve never confessed to and then they tell someone just how in love you are to stave off a creeper….yeah, that. Odo plays the part well and Tiron is rebuffed but makes a point of making sure they know just how rich he is <money can buy anything>.

The Defiant is in the Gamma Quadrant for the first time since the beginning of the third season; 7 episodes ago. Dax picks up gravimetric distortions and they head in to check out. Whoa!! An entire planet just materializes out of nowhere! A settlement with 30 lifeforms hails them. Rakal explains their planet is called Meridian and that it came out of another dimension. She invites them down for a meal to discuss more. 

Rakal introduces the crew to the other people in the settlement. One man is very interested in Dax <how far down do they go?> But Sisko gets right to business. Rakal explains the planet shifts between the two dimensions and that they don’t know that much about why it happens. When they are in other dimension, they all exist as pure energy; they don’t age while there. The man that was talking with Dax, Deral, has been trying to learn why they shift back and forth. To put a point on it, he says their time in normal space is limited so they <look forward to the many pleasures>. He goes on to say they are in the energy dimension for 60 years at time. Dax is really responding to Deral as he continues to flirt with her.

Up in Quark’s bar, Tiron is complaining to Quark about how bored he is with the holosuites. And, if you’ve ever wondered, they make it pretty clear what really goes on in those holosuites…. Tiron asks for a custom program, making it clear, again, that price is not a consideration. He wants….well, he wants Major Kira. Yeah. Yep. 

So, of course, Quark, a person that values his friendship with Kira and has worked to earn her respect immediately rejects the offer and kicks Tiron our of his bar. Oh, wait…no. He accepts the deal and guarantees the program’s quality <The things I do for money>.

Deral and Dax are talking about Meridian and how it came to be; she finds it remarkable there only 30 people. He says they are the descendants of an expedition that was stranded there millennia ago. Judging by their alien-makeup, I have to wonder if one of the original explorers was Bam Bam Bigelow. Deral tells Dax that their time in normal space has been growing shorter every time they materialize, in fact, in 12 days from now, they’ll shift back. This shorter timeframe has affected their ability to reproduce and their numbers have been dwindling for some time. At some point, the shifts between the two dimensions will be too short and cause such a strain that the planet, and all of the inhabitants will cease to exist. For a society that doesn’t know why things are happening to them, they sure have a solid handle on what has been happening and what will ultimately become of them. 

Sisko and Rakal agree to partner in trying to figure out why the dimensional shifts occur. While they’re talking, Sisko interacts seamlessly with the inhabitants, fitting in well and encouraging an atmosphere of trust. This is excellent timing as it gives him an opportunity to demonstrate that he has an interest in the people there. He joins Dax and Deral as they head up to the Defiant to analyze some scans.

A theme I am going to explore through this episode is creating a welcoming environment. We saw this with Rakal from the moment they reached out to the Defiant. Sisko is doing the same. What we will see through this episode is how that welcoming environment, both on Meridian and aboard the Defiant, and starting from trust leads to a productive and enjoyable partnership. Rakal opens their relationship by acknowledging the elephant in the room - the fact they just appeared out of nowhere and follows that up with an invite to share a meal. Sisko, eager to learn about what they just witnessed and likely eager to engage with a new culture quickly accepts. They both assume positive intent from the other and fully engage with each other under that assumption. As the episode continues, we will see them confirm that assumption and leverage their relationship, built on trust and maintaining a welcoming environment, to take some pretty extreme risks and to try to learn that which has evaded them for millennia.

How does this compare to your style? Would people describe your workplace as welcoming? When you work with staff, colleagues or customers, do you assume positive intent and start from trust? If you answered “yes” to all of these, good for you!! But, if you’re like most of us, you likely have some work to do in these areas.When I say welcoming environment, I don’t just mean people visiting feel welcome; I mean every person, every day feels it. They feel like they belong there; that they have value. Really, that they are wanted there. I mean, can you think of a time you didn’t feel like you were even wanted at work; that you were little more than a number that could be replaced? I know I have. It’s terrible. I remember it well; I would call in sick to work just to avoid being there. The more I felt that I wasn’t really wanted, the less I wanted to be there. You can imagine what my work performance looked like. And this wasn’t a “me” thing; they didn’t just not want Jeff Akin there - we were all replaceable. Most of the others kept their heads down and did just enough to not get fired, to not be noticed. Some went a step further and actively sabotaged projects. Eventually, I gathered the courage to finally leave that job, and it was one of the best choices I ever made for myself. But what if I hadn’t had to make that choice? What if my leadership worked to be sure we all felt wanted. I loved the work we did; I might even still be there! But, despite where I may have landed, had people felt wanted there, welcome there, they would have given more of themselves. Our work products would have been better - people certainly wouldn’t have been actively sabotaging work! In this episode so far, we have quickly seen how easy it can be to make someone feel welcome. Now, we’ll start to see some of the payoff from that.

On Deep Space 9, Kira comes into Quark’s bar where he informs her that she’s his <one millionth customer>. He gifts her some champagne, free spins at the dabo wheel and an hour in a holosuite. There’s a fun, genuine moment where she is excited and shares she’s never won anything. <I’ve never won anything before> Kira is excited about the hour in the holosuite; it’s Ensign Quintana’s birthday and she plans on gifting him the hour; she hates holosuites. Quark’s plan to get a holoimage of Kira is thwarted.

How cool is Kira, though? First, she is genuinely excited to have won something. It’s easy to forget the absolute horror show her childhood was. Growing up in the Bajoran Resistance didn’t have trophies or participation ribbons; you either survived or didn’t…or worse. And then, in the mark of a strong leader, she immediately thinks of her team and how to recognize them. She knows Ensign Quintana would appreciate a free hour in there and she immediately passes the gift onto them. A selfless act in that she expects nothing in return. All she sees is an opportunity to make a team member’s day better. 

Dax and Sisko have some minor breakthroughs in the Meridian mystery; Deral, though, while interested is a lot more interested in Jadzia. They head back to the planet to run around and explore the forests. We learn Deral’s wife died some time ago and there’s pressure on him to choose a new mate. They enjoy the time together and we fade to commercial…

We’re back to the show and they’re back to business, continuing to work the sensor data and information coming from the Defiant. After some time, Dax figures out why the shifts are occurring. She goes back to the Defiant to run her hypothesis by O’Brien and Sisko.

More on the station with Quark and Kira…. Kira is awesome here again. She lets Quark know she will not put up with his garbage <make you eat the imager>. Quark doesn’t give up, though, and he finds a way to access Kira’s personnel file and create a holoimage of her. His hacking attempts are detected by Odo, though, so he and Kira cook up a plan to get some revenge against Quark.

Jadzia confirms they can equalize the time spent between each dimension, essentially spending 30 years in each instead of 60 in one and a few days in normal space. The catch is, it will take quite some time to develop the fix, so they’ll have to phase back into the other dimension again. With a 60 year clock on them, Deral and Jadzia won’t be able to have a long-term relationship. So, Deral works with Rakal and he says he’ll stay with the crew and go back to DS9. Bashir and Dax have a fun bonding moment over this with him teasing her about playing Tongo. 

On the planet, Dax and Deral have their first heart-to-heart conversation. Deral cares for his people and is torn between staying with them and having a relationship with Dax. Dax offers to phase into the other dimension with him; to leave the crew and stay with Deral. He’s humbled by the offer and they agree to make it happen. 

Sisko comes into Dax’s cabin to see her off. <first time someone requests 60 year leave>. He shines here as both a leader and a friend. He makes sure it’s what she really wants. He’s been friends with both Curzon and Jadzia and only wants what will make Dax truly happy. <I am happy for you>. It’s not about him, his needs. Neither personally nor professionally, It’s about what his dear friend, his colleague and his subordinate wants. He could easily deny the leave request, keep her on the crew. But he doesn’t. He knows there is more at stake here for her than any need he may have. Sisko models one of my favorite mantras in leadership: “It’s not about me, it’s ALL about you.”

The Tiron/Quark/Kira story comes to a merciful end. Quark gives Tiron the program. An overly eager Tiron ente rs and sees Kira’s body lying on a bed…but with Quark’s head! Kira successfully shut down the scheme and Tiron is all kinds of mad. Ok, that’s finally over. 

On the Defiant, Dax says her good-byes to Bashir, O’Brien and Sisko. I would think, knowing she’s going to be gone for 60 years, she might have reached out to Kira or other friends on the station, but these three will do. Rakal continues to be awesome as she welcomes Jadzia to the settlement <we’re so happy you’re here>. There is no judgement from her, just trust, inclusion and welcoming. 

The phase shift does not go well, turns out Dax’s molecular make-up isn’t a good fit; her presence is risking the planet, all of the inhabitants and her. They make the call to beam her out and Meridian safely phases away, but Dax and Deral have been separated. Sisko checks in with her, she says <I just need some time> and he gives it to her. 

Wow. This is incredible. So good. When people experience loss we never know what to say, what to do. In fact we often end up saying the wrong things - all with the best of intentions. “I’m so sorry for your loss. When my loved one died it made me feel…” blah, blah, blah. Right? We want to be there. We want to comfort. Years ago I lost someone that was so important to me. They were my everything. They were sick, and it was becoming apparent the end was nearing and I just couldn’t handle it. I sought out bereavement counseling and it saved me. Without it I wouldn’t have been able to feel what I needed to feel. I was terrified of returning to work and hearing all the platitudes from people. Just the thought of it made me want to crawl into the world’s deepest hole and stay there forever. The counselor told me something so powerful, though, that empowered me to return to work and face all the well intentioned comments people were going to make. When other experience loss, we also experience a form loss; it is a shared feeling. When people share platitudes or stories or attempt to commiserate with you, it’s about THEM working through THEIR feelings at that moment. It’s an important part of the process. That knowledge helped me weather that storm; I knew I was helping others and that helped me. 

If you didn’t get anything else out of that, please get this: mental health is real and important. Seek out professional, medical help…it is a good thing.

Ok, so that helps me set the context for this master move by Sisko. Jadzia says she just needs some time. He nods and leaves. Brilliant. He, again, doesn’t make it about him at all. She needs time, he gives it to her. Period. No expectations. No, “you’re entitled to a 30 minute break and then I need you back at your station.” He gives her what she needs without question. This offer of trust is immeasurable in its impact. Knowing that her friend and her boss has her back through this will help her in feeling what she needs to feel. And when she does return to work, she will do so with passion because she knows that she matters. 

<<Red Alert>>

So, last time I said this was an emotional one and that I was looking forward to it. So, yeah, it was kind of emotional. Maybe not one to look forward to, though; a case of the memory being more fond than the actual episode. It bears a quick comment, but the Tiron/Quark/Kira storyline really should have never happened, or should have happened very differently. If either Quark just shut Tiron down, or Kira had Quark kicked off the station, I could get behind it. Instead, it just shows that Quark is a truly evil person that will do anything for money. The gimmick at the end with Quark’s head on Kira’s body is a Deep Space 9 “moment” …but I would gladly give that up if it meant never seeing this story play out. Super glad it introduced us to Jeffrey Combs, though. He’s amazing and did with this role exactly what was intended. Still, I will choose to remember him as Brunt, Weyoun, Shran, Krem or Penk and not Tiron.

The planet phasing between dimensions was an interesting concept. Very Star Trek worthy. It’s the whole Deral/Dax relationship I have a hard time with. Now, this might just be me, but Dax has lived for 8 lifetimes at this point, over 350 years. I find it hard to believe that after a few days of science work and awkward, mid-90’s TV flirting she’d be willing to throw away all that Jadzia had worked for for this guy. Now, maybe the long life span and multiple lives makes 60 years seem insignificant, but she’s willing to give up most of Sisko’s life for Deral. I just don’t buy it. 

Not a bad episode, but not one I’m going to eagerly look forward to watching again.

<<Command Codes>>

Not a lot of time dedicated to leadership in this episode. Kira has a shining moment that we discussed earlier. It actually reminds me of an activity we did back in my high school Global Issues class my senior year. I forget a lot of the details, but we were talking about the impacts of urbanization in Africa. The exercise had us all as members of a small, agricultural African tribe. The teacher appointed me as the leader of this tribe. In retrospect, I think she did that because she must have hated me! You see, each turn, I was given a bag of “food” and a series of choices to make. She would dictate some actions and I would have to make decisions about the rest. So, turn #1, it’s all good. I get a bag of Hershey’s kisses to distribute to the tribe - representing our bountiful harvest, and I get to assign some of the tribe to jobs. Easy innocuous stuff. Turn 2 comes, and some of my tribe have moved to the City, so I now I have less people to assign work to. After a few turns, more people have moved, weather has damaged our crops and we’re not looking so good. My baggie of food can still feed everyone, but now it’s a mix of Hershey’s kisses and shredded mini-wheat pieces. The activity continues until everyone dies, horribly, and my classmates are mad because I made them eat shredded wheat. One thing I did, though, that was a saving grace for my ever-so-glorious high school years, was that I would always give myself the shredded wheat first. That is, the tribe would get the kisses until there just weren’t any left. I gave up any luxury for myself to serve the greater mission, in this case, my tribe. Kira does this with the holosuite gift. She gives the "Hershey’s kiss” of the prize pack, the hour in the holosuite, to Ensign Quintana. 

I spoke quite a bit about Sisko’s response to Dax’s loss. What he demonstrated here was emotional intelligence and empathy. Absolutely critical traits for a leader. These require vulnerability, though. Sisko, or you, must be open and real. I mean, his heart must have been broken for Jadzia. But to do anything more than he did would have only been self serving. He gave of himself so she could thrive and be better.

I’m going to group Sisko and Rakal together on this last note. Early in this podcast I spoke about creating a welcoming environment. Their dedication to that is going to result in a more normalized existence for the inhabitants of Meridian. They both made it look so easy to do - be warm and inviting. You know, just be cool. But if it’s so easy, why don’t more leaders do this? Why isn’t every workplace an awesome environment that people want to be a part of? Honestly, quite a few reasons, but two come front of mind for me: priorities and knowledge. If my priority is to churn out widgets, I’m going to crack the ship and churn out widgets. Ultimately, though, it’s lack of knowledge. Because if that widget maker knew the impact of creating and sustaining a welcoming and inclusive environment, they’d be all-in! It has been proven, time and again that employees that feel included and welcome perform better. I’ve experienced this in my own work - making the people I work with the number one priority and allowing the work to essentially become a side effect of that focus has led us to producing more, year-to-year, in less time with 1/3 less headcount. The only quantifiable change we made was to make our people the priority. 

So, great. Know you have the knowledge that it’s good business, good leadership to create a welcoming environment, but how do you do it? Start by creating an uncompromising and consistent vision for inclusion; ensuring everyone is valued and feels valued, that they are welcome and feel welcome. Then actively model and reinforce the behaviors that achieve that vision: For example: 
Showing genuine concern towards team members.
Making an extra effort to understand problems faced by others.
Working together to arrive at decisions that all can accept.
Make Efforts to uncover opposing or alternative views in order to try to better 
understand and solve problems.
Having a willingness to help each other
And standing up for each other

Other strategies that key to building a welcoming and inclusive environment are to recruit equitably and without bias; to seek out and offer inclusion training! This is beyond diversity or cultural competence trainings, but training focused on inclusion for everyone. Be transparent and openly talk about your vision and other topics that are meaningful to your teams. 

Much like Sisko and Rakal making this look easy, this may all sound very easy. What is difficult is being consistent. Being uncompromising in your vision. Especially when you are challenged! When people model behaviors like withholding information or being condescending, or worse yet, verbally or even physically dominating others you must respond. These behaviors will undermine all the positive work done in reinforcing desired behaviors. Be consistent. 

Sisko, again, showing us that he is a leader worth following. And, hey, so is Kira! Both have demonstrated their commitment to the people they work with and have actively worked to lift them up, empower them and allow them to be better. 

<<Hailing Frequencies>>

Ok, who loved this episode and hates me now? Tell me why! Was there something in here, an ah-ha, for you? Share it with me. Is there something I missed, did I get it wrong? I’m on all the social media @jefftakin Jeff, t as in toymaker, a k i n. If you have enjoyed the Starfleet Leadership Academy, please share it with a friend or someone you think could benefit from it.

What are we going to watch next time…. 

The Omega Glory from the Original Series. Hmmmm. Yeah, well, hey, we get to see another Constitution Class starship. Always exciting in the TOS days!

Until then, Ex Astris Scientia! See you next time!