Leadership development even happens in the show!
On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek Voyager, Homestead (Season 7, Ep. 23). He will examine the leadership approaches of Captain Janeway, Tuvok, and - um, am I reading this correctly?? - Neelix.
NOTE: Please listen after the closing music; there's a change in how we're selecting future episodes that will affect the next release.
Welcome, everyone! Thank you so much for joining us today. We’re back with Voyager, and close to the end of that series! This will be different than our other episodes; so much has happened on Voyager in 7 seasons. So, if you’re watching along with us and haven’t watched Voyager before, a lot of the characters will be new to you. I’ll take it easy on you, though! So, here we go! Season 7, episode 23 of Voyager, Homestead.
It’s First Contact Day! You see, back on April 5th 2063 in Bozeman, Montana, Zefram Cochrane flew the Phoenix at warp speed! The first time in Earth’s history anyone achieved warp. This got the attention of the Vulcans, who made first contact. That kicked off a series of events that led to the formation of the Federation and Star Trek as we know it!
All of this was chronicled in the film, Star Trek: First Contact, which we referenced in the last Starfleet Leadership Academy episode reviewing TNG’s Family, that was released November of ’96. This episode aired 4 and a half years later in May 2001, so this was a well established bit of canon at this point.
So, this being April 5th 2378, it is the 315th First Contact Day, and Neelix is throwing a big party! They’re listening to oldies, eating cheese pirogies and having a good time. Neelix tries pressuring Tuvok into dancing, and even with Janeway’s help, it doesn’t happen (Vulcans do not dance). Neelix pledges to get Tuvok to dance at least once before they reach Earth.
This is a great example of leadership buying into, endorsing and participating fun, bonding moments with their teams. Janeway, who we saw back in The Cloud, is one to keep a level of professional distance with the crew, but that doesn’t stop her from having a good time with them. This is a fun event, with strong, cultural significance and she is all in!
This reminds me of an event we held at an office I managed. Every November/December, we would have a Winter Celebration to celebrate the holidays of the season, and the founding of the program, which was in November of 2001. Each year would have theme, ranging from “casino night,” to “carnivale” and everything in between. One year, the theme was Dr Seuss. Please don’t ask me why. Anyway, I adapted Green Eggs and Ham to talk about the work we did; it was pretty fun. It was a small thing, but at a fun event, that was significant to our work culture, it meant a lot. Janeway is doing the same thing here as she tried to goad Tuvok into dancing!
Chakotay interrupts, letting Janeway and Neelix know they’ve found Talaxian life signs just about 5 light years away. Now, they are years away from Talax or Talaxian space; so this really is a big deal. They head in to investigate!
They locate the Talaxians inside of an asteroid field and they’re not responding to hails. Paris, Tuvok and Neelix head into the asteroid field in the Delta Flyer - a customized shuttle Tom Paris built back in season 6. They locate the Talaxians on sensors inside an asteroid. A series of projectiles are launched at the Flyer forcing an emergency landing on their asteroid.
Voyager tracks this as they lose contact with the Delta Flyer. Seven of Nine - one of the new characters we’re just meeting on the podcast. She’s a liberated Borg human. Or as we know them from Star Trek: Picard, an Ex B. Janeway orders the shuttlecraft on Voyager be modified to withstand the bombardment the Delta Flyer experienced.
Neelix wakes up, being attended to by a female Talaxian, Dexa. She starts interrogating Neelix, asking what they were doing in the asteroid field. She’s not quite buying it and doesn’t understand why he would live and travel with aliens. Neelix answers with the confidence of someone that has been a member of a Starfleet crew for 7 years (it’s standard procedure on an away mission).
Dexa’s son, Brax, comes into the room. Dexa shoos him away and locks Neelix behind a force field.
Once the modifications to the shuttles are complete, Janeway orders an away team to prep and head out after the Delta Flyer. She’s interrupted by a mining vessel led by someone named Nocona. He claims to own the asteroid field. We learn the projectiles that downed the Flyer were part of a mining operation Nocona was leading. He strongly encourages Voyager to stay out the of the field and offers to search for the missing away team. They end the communication before Janeway can respond.
Neelix is trying to bond with Brax, who is playing on the other side of the force field. He’s really curious about Voyager. Dexa returns and Brax runs off so he doesn’t get caught. She introduces him to the Council Regent, Oxilon. He releases Neelix and informs him that Tuvok and Paris are waiting at the Delta Flyer. Neelix tries to establish a relationship with Oxilon but he’s not interested. They’re a very insular and borderline xenophobic group.
Dexa shows him around. There are over 500 people living in the asteroid. She talks about all the work they’ve done, and they still need to do. Neelix is very impressed.
They meet up with Paris and Tuvok and Dexa returns to her people. Neelix grabs a plasma manifold and gets to work helping repair the shuttle. He looks for the silver lining in the disappointing experience he had.
As they’re working on repairs, they find a stowaway; Brax. He wants to see Voyager. As Neelix is leading Brax back to his mother, he runs into Oxilon who is arguing with Nocona; the mining dude. He’s saying they have 3 days to before his crews destroy the asteroid to mine it. He insists he doesn’t want to hurt anyone, but that he has been patient enough; this is their final warning. Dexa stands up to him, they go to grab Brax and Neelix gets into it. He attacks one of the miners with a classic Star Trek, double-axe handle chop, grabs his phaser and sends the miners packing.
They thank him. Dexa and Oxilon argue fighting back vs. running away. Dexa asks if Neelix will help them. Neelix agrees that fighting isn’t the answer and offers to help advocate to Janeway for help. He invites them to Voyager to meet with her. She agrees to conduct the negotiation.
It’s his turn to show them around. Neelix expertly walks them through the stations on the bridge. Harry Kim and Chakotay talk him up, big time (as you can see he’s the most versatile member).
He introduces Dexa and Brax to Naomi Wildman, his god-daughter. Thank you to Ryan’s Edits on YouTube for that one. She’s another character we’ll meet, in more detail, in earlier episodes of Voyager, later episode of the Starfleet Leadership Academy. She’s very important to Neelix. She offers to take Brax to the holodeck. They run off, leaving Neelix and Dexa together. They get some Talaxian food and reminisce about Talax. We learn her husband, Brax’s father died. She tells the story of her group’s exodus from Talax and their search for a new home. Her husband, on a planet they tried to stay on, was killed while defending his meager farmland. That ultimately led them to the asteroid.
The negotiations are underway. Janeway is trying to find a compromise. Neelix is actively participating. He asks about compensation for the miners; he shares the Talaxians produce geothermal energy that could be converted to fuel. Janeway offers to provide technology to adapt the fuel to the miner’s needs. They seem open to this.
Negotiations are a big part of our job as leaders. Sometimes, like Janeway, we are negotiating huge deals, with multiple priorities and interests. Other times, we’re negotiating who gets the last piece of pizza! We don’t see the in depth, back and forth here, but what we do see is that there is a shared value; no one wants harm to come to the Talaxians. When you are negotiating with someone, having a shared vision can change the game. We’re all familiar with the traditional compromise vs win-win model of negotiating, right? I want A and you want B. To compromise, we both get part of A and B and neither of us necessarily gets what we actually want. Win-Win introduces C to the equation, another option. Well, in this case, a successful negotiation with a shared value can create a win-win-win. I get what I want, you get what you want, and we both satisfy our shared value. So, in this example, the Talaxians would get to stay on the asteroid - win, the miners will have access to necessary fuel and resources - win, and there is no harm or loss of life - win! We’ll see how these negotiations end up a little later.
Naomi is still hanging out with Brax. She’s telling the story of Tuvix. I cannot wait for Tuvix to come up for the Starfleet Leadership Academy! This is a contentious episode for a lot of Voyager fans and I’m excited to jump into the middle of that philosophical quagmire that is a Star Trek equivalent to the Trolley Dilemma. But that’s for a future episode!
Turns out the negotiations didn’t go super well; the miners only agreed to extend the deadline. Janeway offered Voyager to help ferry supplies, but that isn’t good enough for Dexa.
Neelix asks Tuvok for help setting them up for success on the planet they’ve selected to move to. Tuvok instead makes the case, hypothetically, for what it would take for them to make a stand and defend their asteroid. He says the piece they are missing is good leadership. He goes on to state, hypothetically, that Neelix is the one for the job. This sends Neelix into a spiral of self doubt, but Tuvok cuts that off by reinforcing the skills Neelix has developed on Voyager.
On this podcast, I’ve committed to being transparent and owning my biases. Well, I cannot stand Neelix. He is, without a doubt, far and away my least favorite Star Trek character. I often felt bad for Ethan Phillips, who plays Neelix. He’s a wildly skilled actor that had to sit for all that make up and portray a character that, in my opinion, added little to nothing to the show and often detracted from it.
Ok, all that being said, Tuvok is right! This episode demonstrates it in a number of ways, but even when looking back on the series, Neelix has really grown and developed. In this scene, his self doubt is the voice of the viewer, “I’m just a cook imagining to be a diplomat.” But Tuvok counters that with the exact reason I make this podcast! He has developed. He has grown. I make this podcast to help impart leadership lessons from Star Trek, well, Neelix is the product of that! Janeway, Chakotay, and the whole crew, really, have played active roles in stretching him, slowly, beyond his capabilities. Teaching and honing new skills. Developing and preparing him for the moment that he can unleash his potential as a leader.
If your job is to be a leader; if you’re a manager or a director, or VP, or whatever title that assumes you have a leadership role - this is what it is all about. Finding the opportunities to give assignments that are just a little bit beyond someone’s current abilities; along with appropriate supports, of course. Creating opportunities where your staff can fail, and learn from those failures. To use a sports analogy, it is all about building your bench!
There’s more to this. A LOT more, that will come shortly. But this moment with Tuvok was a serious ah-ha for me. Put simply - the person from which I expect the least is actually capable of the most. Makes me question who I have unintentionally held back because they were my least favorite character on the team, if you know what I mean.
With a lot on his mind, Neelix heads to the shuttle bay. Janeway finds him in the hallway. (you’re as much a part of this crew). She puts up the tiniest bit of a fight, but quickly wishes him the best and sends him on his way.
He’s on the asteroid, showing off the skills Tuvok reminded him, and me, he has. He’s speaking with confidence, thinking innovatively, and inspiring the Talaxians to stand up for themselves (how do you know they won’t terrorize you).
They go to work. Neelix is checking in with people setting up the plan. He’s encouraging them and appropriately sharing his vulnerability (I’m scared too). He’s walking around, checking in with the teams and actively providing oversight. The miners start attacking, targeting non-essential systems, and Neelix is directing a tactical response as they prepare to deploy a shield. He is the captain of this operation and running the show! He is finding his stride in the leadership role as the operation is a success! The shield is deployed and the miners give up.
After the engagement, Neelix is trying to say good-bye to Dexa, Brax and Oxilon. I say trying, because they want him to stay, and it’s obvious he does too. He returns to Voyager and talks with Naomi Wildman. He’s wrestling with some life changing stuff right now and he reaches out to someone he trusts. As they talk, he realizes that she’s grown, and doesn’t need him like she used to.
He heads to the mess and runs into Janeway. She listens and just lets him talk. She knows what he is wrestling with and is hopeful he’ll talk his way to his own conclusion. He doesn’t so, plays every leader’s ace in the hole: “Maybe you could help me.” She explains that they are close to home and have 2-way communication with Earth and they will need a permanent ambassador in the Delta Quadrant. She gives Neelix permission to be ok with what he wants to do. This is an important distinction - she’s not giving permission for him to leave; that’s not hers to give. She’s making it ok for him to feel what he is feeling and for him to make his own decision. Without that, he could use a false obligation to Voyager to stay on board and not do what he is feeling called to do. There is visible relief on his face as she says this.
Ok, this is what I was talking about earlier. Tuvok helped Neelix see and accept the potential and the skill he had within him. Then, he validated that by leading the Talaxians to a successful defense of their home. And now, this. Janeway lets him leave. Let’s him use those skills and his unlocked potential elsewhere. Many people would want to keep him to themselves, so they can benefit. But it’s to about them; it’s about Neelix. It’s about your employee. Yes, you invested in them, you developed them, but do you want them to feel obligated to you, or do you want them to be able to do what they want to do?
I’ll give a real life example from my experience. I used to work with this amazing person, Aaron. He was brilliant, eager to do good work and hungry to do the most he could do. I worked closely with him, gave him opportunities to stretch beyond his capabilities. He eventually developed and demonstrated the skills necessary to promote and move to the next level. I had opportunities for him. He could have absolutely stepped up in my organization and I could have directly benefitted from his development. But his passion was for other work. With my support, he promoted into a critical role in HR (and god bless him for that, and god bless all of you HR professionals out there. Yikes!). It kind of sucked, to be honest. I felt like I lost out.
But here’s where it gets cool. It didn’t take long where our work intersected. We found ourselves in meetings together; he was supporting much of our work from the HR side. Our relationship and the investment I, and my team, made in him paid off time and time again as he was able to help us through some difficult problems and was always there to either advocate for us, or let me know, privately, that I was off base and needed to cool my jets. It was 100% worth it to help him out and to support him leaving and doing what he actually wanted to do.
Unfortunately, Aaron passed away a few years ago. I miss him terribly but am thankful for the time I got with him and for the lessons he taught me.
In this case, Janeway is actively supporting and encouraging Neelix to do what he wants to do. While he won’t be on Voyager flexing his newly realized leadership muscles, she, and the entire Federation will benefit from his role in the Delta Quadrant.
An emotional scene. Neelix leaves the turbo lift and is headed to his ship. The crew are lining the corridor to send him away. Janeway wishes him well and Tuvok, Tuvok does a little dance for him. A beautiful and fitting good bye; especially for a relationship that was established in the very first episode of the series.
The episode ends with him embracing Dexa and Brax; his new family.
I came into this episode being happy that it’s one of the last times we’ll see Neelix. Instead, this episode showed me that, while it was a long time coming, he really did bring value to the ship. Now, I’m not ready to say he’s not my least favorite character in the whole franchise; but my overall opinion has certainly changed.
I really enjoyed this episode. It starts with a solid premise; a colony hidden in an asteroid field, and then layers on even more cool stuff; they’re Talaxians! Throughout the series, we learned a lot about these people, including the devastating war with the Haakonians that caused most Talaxians to leave their homeworld. Meeting these colonists really adds an exodus flavor to the story of all of those expelled from home.
It’s also a good overview of the impacts and relationships Neelix has had on Voyager. We see the depth of his relationship with Naomi Wildman, the respect the crew has for him, specifically when Harry Kim and Chakotay talk him up in front of Dexa and Brax. And we see the power of his friendship with Tuvok; we’ll talk about that more when we get to the common codes.
I also really liked the fact that the “bad guys” in this episode weren’t really bad guys. They were just greedy miners trying to capitalize on their investment. They weren’t bent on evil and even went out of their way to avoid hurting the Talaxians. They were really just there as a catalyst for Neelix to see his potential. Plus, their makeup was pretty cool too!
The scene when Neelix leaves the ship is very well done. It makes me wish there was a salute or something like that they used in Starfleet. While Janeway’s farewell is heartfelt and appropriate, it just doesn’t pack the punch that a Starfleet salute would have. But that’s just my opinion.
As a bit of trivia, most of the people lining the corridor were crew or regular extras; they put everyone they could in a uniform and gave them a spot to stand in. Jeri Ryan, the actor that portrays 7 of 9, said this was her most emotional day and moment on Voyager.
We’ve got some great Janeway stuff in this episode, as always, but we’ll get to her later. First, I want to look at some of the construction of this episode and how it laid a trail of breadcrumbs to the ending.
The episode starts with an event, a party, that Neelix coordinated and worked. Later, when he first wakes up, he cites standard procedure for an away team. When he meets the Council Regent, he goes into diplomat mode and attempts to form a relationship to build an alliance. In the Delta Flyer, he gets right to work repairing the ship; he doesn’t need anyone telling him what to do or how to do it; he just knows. It continues when the Talaxians are threatened, he steps right in and uses Starfleet combat tactics to stand up to the miners.
This takes us to about the halfway point of the episode. This was all meant to demonstrate competency. If you were watching this episode with the biases I was, these are important as we head into the next part of the episode. When Tuvok steps in and suggests that Neelix has what it takes to lead these colonists in the defense of their home, it’s believable. We just spent 20 minutes watching him do the things Tuvok says he can do.
This brings us to the Tuvok lesson for the episode. He knows the abilities of the people on his team; he knows them better than they do, or, at least he has more insight into them. Neelix really represents a lot of people here. People that are academically aware of their capabilities, but don’t really believe in them. Neelix expresses a lot of self doubt here, but Tuvok knows the truth and continues to express it to him.
For you and me, in our workplace, this is part of why we do performance reviews and development plans. Now, if you’re like me a few years ago, you’re thinking, “performance review?? Are you serious? Those are a waste of time!” Well, quite frankly, in a lot of environments, you’re right. For many large companies or in organizations with collective bargaining agreements, the performance review has become little more than another box to check. “Hmm, updated emergency contacts, property tracking, oh, and here’s your annual review. See you next year!” Man, this is one of the biggest crimes we’ve ever perpetrated in modern work culture. Such a wasted opportunity! But, let’s be real; for a lot of us, it’s literally just another thing we have to do and there is very little incentive to put any real work into it.
I remember one company I worked for. Getting all of my reviews complete was part of my performance review. So, I had to check boxes so my boss could check a boss. Our annual raises were tied to our scores, but, if we scored someone low enough that they didn’t get a raise or high enough that they would get more than the standard raise, HR would push back and make me jump through countless other hoops basically making it impossible to do anything other than just give the standard raise. I tell you what; those were some absolutely worthless reviews I delivered there. And, yeah! The performance reviews I received were just as worthless. “Thanks, Boss…just let me file this over here in the blue barrel.”
So, what should these look like? Where is the value in doing a performance review? We saw the value here, when Tuvok lit the fire under Neelix that was the catalyst for his actions in this episode.
But what do they look like? Well, first, many of us are committed to using a format developed by our employer, but that’s ok. I mean, really, that just helps guide the conversation. And that’s what it should look like - a conversation. Whatever the period is between reviews, annual seems to be a standard, you should be observing their job performance, their demonstration of soft-skills that are important to your work and work culture, etc. And then you should TALK to your employee about it. Don’t just write it up, send it off and wait for their signature. Tell them what you saw; areas they can improve and develop in; and help them actually do those things. But, much like Tuvok did here, tell them where they excelled! Tell them what you have observed in them that maybe they haven’t. This is where you can open their eyes, and possibly doors, to opportunities or challenges they may not have seen in themselves.
I have a person I work with right now. They do quality assurance work and they’re really good at it. But, some time ago, I observed how much they tend to dive into the guts of a process; they naturally look for opportunities to streamline operations. I shared this in a check in on their development plan; a plan that grew out of their performance reviews and discussions about their aspirations, both professional and personal. After a conversation about this, I was able send them to training and since then, they’ve earned their green-belt in six sigma and they’re working towards their black belt. They’re loving it; feeling valued and heard in our organization, but I’m loving it to! They’ve cleaned up so many of our processes; it’s great!!
Janeway doesn’t appear very much in this episode, but when she does, she’s delivering the goods! At the top of the episode, she’s partying with her crew! Well, partying Janeway style. We examined this pretty closely in our episode on The Cloud, when she determined the need to be close, yet remain professional with the crew. That was in the 1st season; here we are in the 7th seeing impacts from that decision. She’s having fun and interacting with people; even poking a little fun at Tuvok along with Neelix. It’s great! She does a lot in this moment to enrich and sustain the culture on Voyager.
Her shining moment in this episode, though, is when she runs into Neelix in the mess hall. She knows Neelix; she knows her crew! Given what has happened since they met the Talaxians and Neelix’s behavior, she knows what’s up. Here’s some of the magic of Janeway. Before she even opens her mouth, she’s made her decision. She immediately knows that she is going to encourage him to leave the ship; leave the crew. In a style reminiscent of the socratic method, she works backwards from that decision. She asks questions and lays the groundwork for the moment.
She starts by asking questions and being quiet; giving Neelix space to talk. I think here, she’s hoping he will talk himself into the decision. He doesn’t, so she shifts gears like an expert. She’s going to meet him halfway. Knowing he’s always eager to help, that’s exactly what she asks - will you help me? This is an incredible approach to use in you day to day. People tend to want to help. They also tend to not want to do what they’re told to do. There’s a big difference between, “I need you to go work on that thing over there now,” and, “Hey, will you help me out with something? We have to take care of this thing really quickly and I need someone to go work on that thing over there; do you think you could do that?” In both cases, the person will likely do the thing, but in the second case, they’ll want to do it, and will likely do a better job.
But, here she asks for his help, basically spells out the situation that will let him do what he wants to and just waits for him to say yes. And this isn’t a case of being manipulative. She’s being authentic; she really does need someone she trusts implicitly in the Delta Quadrant. Like, this is a real need she and Starfleet have. But the way she offers it not only empowers Neelix to act the decision he’s already pretty much made, but makes him feel like he is helping her! It’s amazing! At the start of this scene he was so worried about disappointing her and everyone; at the end, he’s the hero, able to help the Talaxians, leave the ship to stay with them, and continue to help Voyager.
And then, and it shocks me to say this, we have lessons from Neelix. He shows off his leadership skills while helping the colonists set up their defenses. He maintains his calm, he checks in with the various groups working on different tasks; he is endlessly encouraging. He makes it clear that he believes in these people. He took a group of people that had been conditioned to run at the first sign of trouble, and led them an effective defense of their home.
My opinion here is that his effectiveness comes from two places. First, the years of training and experience he has received, along with the recently reinforced confidence from Tuvok and his colleagues on Voyager. Secondly, and this is a lesson we can all apply right away - he knows what success looks like and he truly believes they will be successful.
Imagine if he approached this effort the same way we approach, or people we know approach, many projects we are involved in. You know, where we define success like: the implementation of the new software. What does that look like?? And I don’t mean like a guiding vision, I mean literally, what does it look like. If someone was standing there watching success happen, what would they describe? Neelix can describe that - shield emitters deployed and creating a shield; the miners seeing the shield and giving up the effort; and the Talaxians settling into safety in their home they have now fought for.
If you’re involved in a project, or if you are working to develop people, imagine what success looks like. What do you see? Do you believe it? Do you believe it’s possible to achieve that success? Take a page from Neelix here - having that picture and believing in it makes all the difference.
Wow…I can’t believe I just encouraged people to follow Neelix’s example!! If you had any idea how deep my bias towards him runs, you would understand what a powerful lesson he helps teach here!
So, what are your thoughts on this episode? How do you develop the people on your team? Do you have any great stories to share? Let me know! I’m on all the social media @jefftakin Jeff, t as in Talaxian, a k i n. If you have enjoyed the Starfleet Leadership Academy, I’d like to ask a favor; please share it with a friend or someone you think could benefit from it.
What are we going to watch next time….
Oh, this is a fun one! With A LOT of Star Trek history baked into it. The 10th episode of the first season of Discovery, Despite Yourself. Discovery is a tougher series for the format of this podcast; each episode is another chapter in the ongoing story arc of the season, so we’re coming in at the top of the last 3rd of the story. It’ll be an interesting challenge, but one I look forward to!
Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!