The importance of connecting with your team
On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek The Next Generation, Eye of the Beholder (Season 7, Episode 18). He will examine the leadership approaches of Captain Picard and Commander Riker.
THIS EPISODE DISCUSSES SUICIDE
Click THIS LINK for your free copy of Suicide - The Forever Decision by Dr. Paul G. Quinnett
Riker shows us the value and importance of forming meaningful connections with the people on your team. Picard helps Troi by just being there to listen and to validate her feelings. This episode will show you how you can apply these to your day-to-day.
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Before we get started, I want to let you know that this episode of Star Trek deals with suicide. And, frankly, not very well. I’ll address that in the Red Alert section of the show. If you have been impacted by suicide, please accept my thoughts and support. If you are considering suicide, please know that I do not want you to hurt yourself. If you’re in the United States, call 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741.
According to the CDC, in the US in 2019, 12 million adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.5 million planned a suicide attempt, and 1.4 million attempted suicide. Visit cdc.gov/suicide to learn more.
Thank you, and live, lead and prosper.
Hello and welcome! Thanks for joining me today. We join now Commander Deanna Troi in a mystery episode. As she and Worf investigate the suicide of a crew member, Riker shows us the value of forging meaningful relationships with the people you work with while Picard, once again, teaches us the value of trust and in listening to the people you work. Let’s get into it. It’s season 7, episode 18 of The Next Generation, Eye of the Beholder.
Red alert!! The plasma venting system for the warp nacelles is failing and no can do anything about it! That’s a super big deal. Worf and Riker are climbing to the nacelle tube to see what’s happening. They find Lt. Nara there, trying to shut down the plasma flow; Worf gets to work helping her. She says that Lt. Kwan has locked out the controls. He’s up on the catwalk, standing there, staring intently at the plasma flow.
Nara is afraid he’ll jump into the flow so Riker approaches, “Dan, it’s me, Will Riker.” Kwan doesn’t look at him and responds. “I saw them, and they laughed at me.” Riker tries to connect, says he wants to help, that he wants to see his face. Kwan says he knows what he has to do and leaps into the plasma stream just as Worf shuts it down. He’s too late. Kwan dies and Riker is left there; seeing where Kwan just was.
Riker and Worf meet with Troi and Picard. Riker said he’d been working with Kwan, Troi recently met with him as well during crew evaluations. They’re both confused because he seemed so positive and in good spirits.
Picard wants to be able to give Kwan’s parents some context, some details as to what happens. So he asks Worf and Troi to investigate. They head out to examine his personal logs.
A very problematic scene follows where Data is talking to Geordi and trying to understand suicide. If you watch this episode, I’d just recommend skipping this scene. Adds nothing and, honestly, is pretty ignorant and insulting.
Troi and Worf go through his quarters and personal logs. They learn he has been dating Ensign Calloway, a medical tech. I’m always pretty fascinated by the concept of personal logs in Star Trek. Like, we get to see some of his here and he’s literally just looking into a Trek themed webcam and chatting about his day. They watch the last entry he made, just before going on duty. “After two double-shifts in a row, I’m looking forward to spending time with Maddy.” I mean, that’s great! It’s awesome that he’s excited to see his girlfriend, but who says that?? Who just makes a video of them saying that?? Eh, maybe if you’re into journaling you can help me understand, but I just don’t get it.
Troi decides to meet with Ensign Calloway. She is really compassionate, “I know it’s hard to talk right now,” And they get some visual stuff really right here. Like, they’re meeting in an office, but instead of sitting on opposing sides of the desk, Troi sits in a different chair, beside Calloway. I really appreciate when they show Troi being a counselor; she’s really great!
Calloway doesn’t add a lot of context, just that they were planning shore leave together and that there was some tension between Kwan and Nara. One piece she does drop, though, that pays off later, is that Kwan was very sensitive to how others felt. Troi says that as a Napian, he may have been partially empathic. Now that’s important because Troi, as a half-betazoid, is also empathic.
After her conversation with Calloway, she heads back to the nacelle to look around the area and question Lt. Nara. She says that his performance was excellent and that he actually helped build the Enterprise back when he was stationed at Utopia Planitia. That’s a shipyard where Starfleet builds many of its ships. It has facilities on Mars and the drydocks orbit the planet.
Nara heads back to her duties so Troi looks around. When she climbs onto the catwalk, where Kwan was standing, she is absolutely overwhelmed with emotion and heads straight to sickbay.
Dr Crusher examines her and says she’s healthy. Worf says scans didn’t bring up anything of note and Troi explains that the emotions were just there. Just in the room. Crusher asks, “Could the fact he was empathic have anything to do with it?” She says the emotions Troi described could be consistent with suicide. They decide to go back to the nacelle tube and have Troi experience the emotional onslaught again. Crusher cautions them so they agree to wait a few hours, so she can recover from this experience, and to do it under the supervision of Worf.
In the meantime, they review his logs again and talk through her experience. In recent episodes, these two have been developing a romantic relationship; they have really good chemistry here! After the discussion, Worf heads out and gets a drink at 10 Forward.
Riker is rocking some unbelievable civilian threads. Looking good!
Troi and Worf meet up in the nacelle tube. Troi is suddenly having a vision! A female technician is backing away from her, screaming; terrified. She then sees a horrifying man, staring down at her. It’s back-and-forth, weird flashes. Suddenly, Worf is gone and the tube is under construction. Looks like she’s in the ship back when it was being built. She hears some people, opens a door and it’s the woman she saw screaming with a different man. They’re making out in a closet. The look at her and start laughing. “laughing” when, suddenly, “Counselor, are you all right?” She’s back in the present.
They meet with Picard and Data to review what happened. They confirm she likely experienced something that happened 8 years ago when the ship was being built. They assume that she was in the role of Lt. Kwan, seeing through his eyes, from back when he was at Utopia Planitia. They agree to go back and have her try to experience more of the vision in about 16 hours so she can recover and Dr Crusher can prepare some preventative medicine for her.
While that’s happening, she pores through personnel records trying to identify the people in the vision. “There are literally thousands of people involved.” She finds the guy! “Lt. Walter Pierce.” He’s serving on the Enterprise now! Worf and Troi head out to question him. He seems innocent and doesn’t appear to have any knowledge of anything weird happening. But Troi is suspicious “The strange thing is I couldn’t read him at all.” She was relying on her empathy to get a read on is he was telling the truth or not. She assumes he has some telepathic ability, but it doesn’t line up.
They decide to download and check the engineering logs from the shipyard. Apparently that’ll take some time…so they decide to fill that time…
A pretty hilarious scene follows. They’re waking up “breakfast is ready.” Crusher calls Troi to let her know the medicine is ready. Then she calls Worf to update him on another assignment. Just shows she didn’t know they were together. Stupid funny, but it cracked me up.
Tension ramps up a little bit. Worf is working with Ensign Calloway on the other assignment. Worf can’t join her in the nacelle tube and we get just a glimpse of some jealousy from her.
Geordi and Data join her. They’re taking some scans and examining the area. They find a location that she saw in her vision and that Kwan was working on. They open it up and Troi is having her vision again – she sees the woman screaming and the man, possibly Pierce, staring.
She comes to and tells Geordi what happened. With the panel open and the shielding down, they find organic material in the scans…it’s a skeleton!
They take them to sickbay where Ensign Calloway begins examining them. Worf joins her and Troi is distracted, watching them stand together. The music suggests that glimpse of jealousy from earlier is growing.
Calloway is successful. She identifies who the remains are from. “That’s her! That’s the woman I saw!” They do some more cross-referencing and see that Kwan didn’t arrive to the station until 6 months after Marla Finn, the victim, was reported missing. So she wasn’t seeing through his eyes.
The mystery deepens!!
Worf suggests it was Pierce which she rejects; she says that she saw him so it couldn’t be from his point of view. Until she sees her face in a reflection and realizes that’s how she was seeing him!! Worf goes to pull him in for more questioning, but before he goes, he makes some bedroom eyes and says, “Ensign Calloway, thank you for your help.” Oops.
In the turbolift she confronts him about it and he says he has no regrets and agrees to meet her after he interrogates Pierce.
In her quarters, she, for some reason, is wearing her early TNG gray and purple outfit. Pierce comes in and she calls Security and Worf, but he doesn’t answer. “Lt Worf is in Ensign Calloway’s quarters.” Security arrives and takes Pierce to his quarters. She heads to Calloway’s place, sees them making out. They start laughing at her, just like in her vision! So she kills him!! Straight up blasts him with a phaser!! Distraught and overcome, she stumbles her way out of the quarters and into Pierce. “You know what you have to do.”
She climbs a Jeffries tube to the nacelle tube, stares down the plasma flow…and Worf pulls her away! “You’re alive!!”
The whole thing happened in the few seconds after she and Worf first went to investigate the area. It was all a vision! Data learns, based on her experiences, that Pierce, Marla Finn and the others that she saw all died in a plasma burst 8 years ago. Troi doesn’t buy it, though. She thinks Pierce killed Finn and the man when he found them cheating and then triggered the plasma burst. Picard listens to her and validates what she says. Unfortunately, there’s no way to verify what happened.
And that’s kind of it. No resolution or plan to make sure this doesn’t happen again. But, hey, I’m sure it all be alright. Right?
What a cool idea for an episode. Telepathic person does some murder and then kills themselves but leaves a telepathic residue that triggers the event for others. Yeah, that could be fun and interesting.
But it just isn’t. What a slog of an episode that is saved only by Marina Sirtis’s acting and the chemistry between Troi and Worf.
Quarks – Ads
This episode is very much a product of its time. It came out in February of ’94 and had some really great intentions. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death and Star Trek made an attempt to meld a cool sci fi concept with a message discouraging the act. But it failed.
It minimized what suicide is and why people choose to commit it. Data’s line about choosing to see obstacles as challenges to be overcome instead of an end, in the context of suicide is, frankly, ignorant and dangerous.
Dr. Paul G. Quinnett, the Director of the QPR Institute, wrote an incredible book called Suicide – The Forever Decision. I am going to make this book available to you for free. I ask only two things in return. First, read it. Second, share a copy with someone you know. This is a very well written book with practical tools for people considering suicide and the people around them.
One thing I was surprised to learn when I read this book is that most people who commit suicide are not mentally ill. He says the great majority of people who attempt or complete a suicide are so sad or hopeless or angry they simply can’t stand life anymore. In this episode, Kwan’s empathic abilities and the telepathic residue are clearly meant to create a sci-fi version of a mental illness, so, big miss here as well.
I am, by no means a mental health expert or an expert on suicide. But I do know a few things. I know that if someone around you is thinking about suicide, and you know it, or have reason to believe it, you need to bring it up and talk about it. You’re not there to solve their problems or even necessarily to stop them. You’re there to say eight words. Eight very simple words that can tip the scales dramatically. I DO NOT WANT YOU TO HURT YOURSELF. That’s it. I do not want you to hurt yourself.
The other thing I know about suicide is that it hurts. It hurts a lot to lose someone you care about to suicide. When I was 21, one of our good friends committed suicide. His mom called another one our friends to let them know. I’ll never forget when he told me what happened. My heart broke. It still breaks, even right now while I talk about it.
So I applaud Star Trek for trying. I believe their intent was good. And, honestly, if it stopped one person from committing suicide, then my analysis is worthless. But know that we can impact a person’s decision. Eight words: I do not want you to hurt yourself.
And please, please, please, please download the book that is linked in the show notes.
There were some fun things about this episode too. The person that played Marla Finn, who we only saw for a few, brief moments, is actually the stand-in for Marina Sirtis. Kinda cool that she got a moment to herself on camera.
Other than that, though, this just wasn’t much. There are a lot of people that say TNG ran out of steam around the 7th season and this episode supports that notion. Like, it’s not bad…it’s just not that good. And, seriously, what was the deal with having Troi wear that weird, grey jumpsuit thing? It was just about a year ago she finally started wearing an actual uniform! I just don’t understand why they would have gone back to it.
So if you’re listening to this before watching the episodes, I recommend giving this one a skip. Or not. Whatever. That’s basically my take on this one.
At its core this was a mystery episode, focused on Troi and Worf. Nothing wrong with that, but you have to watch closely to catch the leadership moments in this one. But, good news! I’ve already done that for you, and there are some great takeaways in this one. Both Riker and Picard have moments in this one for all of us to take to heart. They connect with the people around them in a deep and personal way. And Picard hits two homeruns here. First, he shows absolute trust in the abilities of his team, and second, he is an incredible listener.
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In the open of the episode, when Riker is approaching Kwan, I absolutely love what he does. “Dan, it’s me, Will Riker.” He makes it personal. No rank, no hierarchy. He uses first names and references a shared experience “I was down here last week.”
This may not seem like a lot at first glance, but remember, the Enterprise has about 1,000 crew members. That’s a lot of people! Dan Kwan is a lieutenant junior grade, or JG. That’s one step above an Ensign, an O-2. So he is one step above entry-level. There are probably 2 or 300 of him running around the ship. There is one Executive Officer, one of only 3 Commanders on the ship, that we know of, right? There’s Riker, Crusher and Troi, Troi having just earned her promotion two episodes before this one.
But one XO, and that dude not only knew his name but had also spent time with him that he remembered!
Talking about this really reminds me of one of my jobs in high school. I washed dishes at a buffet. I’m pretty sure I’ve brough this job up before, it really offered a lot to shape my views on leadership. There were a lot of us that worked there. I don’t know, maybe like 50 or so – I mean, this was some 30 years ago so forgive me if I don’t exactly remember! And I was in the most entry-level position possible – washing dishes. I could have quit my job and they could have pulled any random person in, spent 10 minutes showing them how to load and unload a dishwasher and they’d be back in business.
But there was this one manager, the assistant store manager, Matt. I guess he was kinda like the XO…he was my Riker! Well, I remember him specifically because he went out of his way to get to know everyone that worked there. He knew our names, what we liked, what are future plans were. It was cool. It made me feel like someone there cared about me, Jeff Akin. And what that did was encourage me to work my butt off!
Now, I was impressed when I was one of 50. Imagine how cool it would be if you were one of 1,000, and the second-to-the-top person remembered your name and what you were doing.
This is why Riker is one of the best examples of a First Officer that we see in Star Trek. In fact, in a Twitter tournament I ran back in March of 2021, you voted him the best out 16 XOs. But he takes the time to get to know and to connect with the people he works with.
What does this look like where you work? For those of you working at a restaurant or in the service industry, this is so critical! The high-pressure moments, that dinner rush that flies in out of nowhere…if you have built up connections with your team, they are going to show up for you! When things go wrong, as they do, they’re going to be more understanding and so are you!
If you’re in an office environment this is where one-on-one conversations become so critical. Taking the time to not only touch base on the work, but also building up connections that matter.
I talked about this, from a different perspective, in Voyager The Cloud, but the same principle applies here. Connecting on a personal level does not mean being Facebook friends, or going out together on the weekends. You are still in a professional relationship, there must be boundaries. Those boundaries can be hard to define, but I’ve always used what I call the U-Haul test. If the person you work with, that reports to you, calls you on a weekend and asks you to pick up a U-Haul and to help them move…you’ve crossed that professional border.
Now, like in all things involving people, that’s not a hard and fast rule. I did help a member of my team move before but there were unique and pretty extreme circumstances. Generally speaking, I think the U-Haul rule stands pretty solid.
Now, let’s talk Picard. The first point is a pretty quick one, in fact, you don’t even really see it happen in the episode. It’s implied, more than anything. But in the scene when Riker is first reporting on Kwan’s death, he says he wants more details so he can provide some context to his family. “I’ve informed many families of the loss of loved ones.” And that’s all he says. Troi and Worf head out and start the investigation. They update him as necessary, he provides his thoughts, but he’s never directing them on what to do. He’s not stepping in and taking charge of anything. He simply trusts them to do what they need to do.
Instead of talking about the importance of building and demonstrating that trust with your team, I’m going to take a different perspective. I’m going to be selfish on this one and I’m going to start with a strong statement:
It is so much easier to manage well than to manage poorly.
Micromanaging takes so much time and effort! Imagine having a crew of 1,000 people and involving yourself in the details of all the activities. Aargh! I couldn’t do it! But I’ve worked with people that sure try.
No, man, what Picard does here is the ticket. Give direction, trust them to do it and let them do it. The episode talks about a medical supply drop off operation that’s going on, but, honestly, he could be kicking back, drinking is earl grey while Troi and Worf are hard at work.
Don’t be a micromanager. It’s just not worth your time, it’s not worth the stress. You have better things to do and so do the people you work with!
Finally, let’s look at Picard as a listener. In the near final scene, when Troi is debriefing everyone on her experience, Picard is listening intently. There is no action to take, no decision to be made. And, other than a strong hunch, there is very little that supports Troi’s version of the story. But none of that matters. What she’s talking about is important to her, very important. And Picard takes her seriously and listens to her. Intently.
Over the last 2 decades or so, I’ve found that one of the most valuable things I can do as a leader is to listen. Dude, people just want to be heard. But it is mind blowing how few leaders actually take the time to do that.
How you do this is often dependent on your position and your role in the organization. When I was Program Director, for example, I would often hold Office Hours for people to come and talk with me about whatever. Now, if I was washing dishes, that probably wouldn’t have worked so well. But, as a dishwasher, I can absolutely lean on the sink and hear what someone has to say while my load is running through the machine.
Years ago when I was a supervisor I was responsible for some pretty heavy-duty reports. They took me a good 2 hours a day to get through.
Quick side story on that. I later learned that almost nothing in those reports every went anywhere or did anything so I actually just stopped doing them all the way. I’d still save a file so it looked like I did the work, but I didn’t actually do anything. No one ever knew or found out.
Anyway, back when I still did the work, I worked with a few people that had a lot to say. I wanted, so desperately, to stop working and engage and listen to them, but I couldn’t always do that. So, I started doing a thing that worked pretty well. Before I share it, though, I have to point out that it worked because I had established trust with these people. If you just take this approach out of the blue, it will absolutely backfire.
But what I did was ask them, as soon as they came into my cube: do you need to vent or do you want to problem solve? If they wanted to problem solve, I stopped doing what I was doing and we got into. If they needed to vent, I’d tell them that I was listening but I was going to keep working on my reports. That let me get my work done, as worthless as it was, and it gave them an opportunity to say what they needed to say and for me to hear it.
So you need to find the way that works for you. How can you create time and create a space where people can talk to you, and, more importantly, you can hear them?
Join us in the Starfleet Leadership Academy Podcast Facebook Group and share your experiences and ideas to listen to and to hear people. The link is in the show notes.
And speaking of show notes, do not forget to download your copy of Dr Quinnett’s book, Suicide – The Forever Decision.
As always, you can follow me on social media: @ SFLA podcast and everywhere else, @jefftakin Jeff, t as in Telepathic residue, a k i n.
Computer, what are we going to watch next time….
Season 1, episode 6 of Discovery, Lethe. If you recall, we last left the crew of Discovery, they released Ripper to the universe, Saru offered us the great Performance Review of all time, and we saw some weird stuff with Stamets and another Stamets in his bathroom mirror. If I remember right, we learn more about Michael Burnham and her early years in this one. I can’t wait to watch it with you!
Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!