Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 6 – Leading from Your Gut

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. 6

Leading from Your Gut

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


The recent reboot of Star Trek (not Star Trek Discovery, but the JJ Abrams produced films) has dived fans. Some embraced it, some disdained it. There were few fans in between.

Put me very much in the embraced it camp. I think it is a terrific update, built for modern sensibilities, that pays significant and appropriate attention to the source material. I think it is full of energy and fun.

And I love the cast, especially Chris Pine as Captain Kirk.

Here is a Kirk who is learning, who is not fully formed, who is finding his way. How cool is that?

In the second (and most divisive) film in the trilogy, Star Trek Into Darkness, Kirk is faced with the realization that he is not as well suited for his leadership role – his captaincy of the Enterprise – as he had believed. He is overcome by fear and doubt and he is confused about what to do next. And he does what most of us do in situations like this: he defaults to his strength.

His instincts.

Throughout his career, Kirk has trusted his instincts. He has relied on his gut feelings. He has banked on the fact that his sixth sense will not let him down.

At times in our leadership journeys, no matter our preference for facing challenges and making decisions, we will be forced stripped down, we will be in the moment, we will be forced to rely on instinct.

And that is okay. If we are good leaders, part of the reason why we are is that our guts and instincts have led us to be. Sometimes, we have to trust them. Sometimes, logic is not enough.

Sometimes, it’s a gut feeling.

And that is okay.

Superheroic Leadership Vol. 1 No. 1 – Superheroic Leadership

Superheroic Leadership Vol. I * No. I

Superheroic Leadership

Superheroic Leadership is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I have learned from their adventures.


For as far back as my memory will take me, superheroes have been a part of the life of my imagination. I learned to read from the adventures of Batman and Spider-Man, learned to take flights of fancy with Wonder Woman and the Avengers and so many more.  And it was not just the four-color heroes I read about in the pages of comic books that were alive in my mind. The heroes of science fiction, especially characters from Star Trek and Star Wars, shared almost equal time.

Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I found that affection for comic books and science fiction was less cool than playing sports or collecting baseball cards and I, like many others who shared these hobbies, did not exactly broadcast my affinity for them. I know I am not alone in that feeling.

How could those of us who spoke the secret language of comics, who knew the difference between the Empire and the Klingon Empire and who debated whether Superman could lift Thor’s hammer have possibly known that these characters we embraced as kids would become culturally dominant icons? How could we have anticipated The Avengers, The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Guardians of the Galaxy and Wonder Woman?

How could we have known the power these stories would have to captivate, to entertain and, dare I write, to inspire?

For there must be something inspirational about these characters and their stories. There must be something worth watching. There must be something with depth about which to think.

I believe there is and, while there are many reasons for the enduring popularity of superheroes and science fiction characters, I believe their lasting resonance has something to do with leadership.

Superheroic Leadership is, at least in title, an homage to Chris Lowney’s terrific Heroic Leadership, wherein Lowney juxtaposes lessons about leadership in business with the lives of early Jesuits. It is a clever and instructive book, Lowney’s Heroic Leadership, and one I highly recommend.

This every-other-week series of posts will not be as clever or instructive. What it will be is a light-hearted examination of what superheroic figures have to teach about leadership and what I, perhaps only on reflection, have learned from their adventures.

There must be a reason I have spent so much time and money on and with these characters, right?

Welcome to Superheroic Leadership!

Teach & Serve II, No. 5 – Explore. Seek Out. Go Boldly.

Teach & Serve II, No. 5 – Explore. Seek Out. Go Boldly.

September 7, 2016

Isn’t that what we want our students to become? Explorers? Don’t we want them to be seekers? And are we really doing our best by them if we aren’t inspiring them to go boldly?

Teachers, listen up. Here is a quick history lesson for you… and it begins, as many journeys of discovery do, in failure.

A failed television show aired its last episode on a Friday night in the spring of 1969. The show was called Star Trek and the episode was called “Turnabout Intruder.” The less said about this seventy-ninth and final episode of Star Trek, the better. When the final title card lit television screens (not that many of them), Star Trek signed off the air with no fanfare and very little interest, destined to fade into… well, history as it turned out.

On the strength of syndication of the original seventy-nine episodes and through the support of a very dedicated, potentially crazy fan base (with a little help from a small, independent science fiction movie called Star Wars), Star Trek found its way back into production less than ten years after its cancellation, this time as a big screen movie.

At the conclusion of 1978’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, a title card fills the screen following the Enterprise saving earth once again. “The Human Adventure Is Just Beginning” the card announces indicating that this first Star Trek movie would not be the last.

It wasn’t.

ST_50th-delta-logo-2Star Trek has spun off five times as television series to date. The sixth Star Trek television show premieres in January of 2017. Star Trek has spawned thirteen films to date. A fourteenth has been announced.

The phenomenon has gone on for fifty years. That’s right. Star Trek has been around for a half century. Thursday, September 8, 1966, the show went on the air. Thursday, September 8, 2016 is the actual mark, the anniversary, the big day.

So what? Why should anyone who is not a pop culture lover, not a science fiction fan, not a Trekker care? Why should teachers and educators care?

Is it because of the damned persistence of the show and its fans? The never-say-die, Spock Lives! attitude that kept the thing afloat all this time? Is that not a great lesson for us as teachers? Should we not learn something from this example, that each time we are down, we are not out? Should we not pass this on to our students? Should we not praise this kind of dedication?

Of course we should, but that’s not the only reason Star Trek should inspire us as educators.

Is it because Star Trek, at its best, presented a unified future where men and women of all colors and races (including alien ones) worked together in near harmony? Is it because Star Trek was the first (no hyperbole here, it was the first) show to feature a black woman in a role that had real responsibility, an Asian American who was not a villain or a sidekick, the first interracial kiss? Is it because Star Trek took on race riots and segregation and class warfare? It did all those things, you know. Should we not underscore these contributions to American thought?

Of course we should, but that’s not the primary reason we as teachers should celebrate Star Trek.

Is it because in a time when science fiction primarily portrayed bleak visions of the future, when dystopias were the rage in the sci fi world, when it seemed more likely that humanity would destroy itself rather than persist, Star Trek stood as an example to point to? Is it because Star Trek showed a vision of the future where humanity had conquered want and need and boarders and had reached – united – into the star? Should we not praise Star Trek for this message of hope?

Of course we should, but there is one better reason to applaud Star Trek.

its five-year mission: to EXPLORE strange, new worlds, to SEEK OUT new life and new civilizations, to BOLDLY GO where no one has gone before…

Explore. Seek Out. Go Boldly.

My goodness, if those don’t sound like words that all of our schools should have in their mission statements. What could be a better mantra for us to impart to our students?

Explore. Seek Out. Go Boldly.

I am a Star Trek fan from… well, from way back. I cannot remember a time when Star Trek wasn’t a part of my life. I thrilled to the adventures of Kirk, Spock and McCoy in reruns on weekday afternoons. I watched the spin offs. I saw the films. I wrote my own Star Trek fiction, read the books, immersed myself in this unique world. And why? Because I am a geek?

Sure, that’s true. But more critical for me and for so many others was the message – the mantra: Explore. Seek Out. Go Boldly.

It’s what made me a teacher. No doubt. Star Trek made me a teacher.

There is a terrific line in Star Trek Into Darkness where the irascible Mr. Scott, upon learning that the Enterprise is about to take on weaponry for their next mission, confronts Captain Kirk. “I thought we were explorers…” he says.

Isn’t that what we want our students to become? Explorers? Don’t we want them to be seekers? And are we really doing our best by them if we aren’t inspiring them to go boldly? To go boldly on their human adventure?

Star Trek not only celebrates the future, it celebrates the future of intelligence, of mastery, of education. It doesn’t fear smart people, it exalts them. You might be surprised at the number of conflicts in Star Trek that are not solved with weapons and fighting, but are solved with logic and reason and love. Sometimes using those tools is the boldest choice of all.

“Inside you is the potential to make yourself better… and that is what it is to be human… to make yourself better than you are” said Captain Picard of the Next Generation.

A teacher couldn’t have said it better herself.

Star Trek lives, and it lives in you if you are a teacher worth your salt… (which brings us to the first aired episode of Star Trek – “The Man Trap” – but that’s another story).

Teach & Serve No. 29 – Beware Edu-Babble

Teach & Serve 

No. 29 * March 2, 2016


Related Content from And There Came A Day:


Beware Edu-Babble

… there is no profession that re-writes its jargon with such wild abandon as education.

Though I don’t know how one accurately quantifies such things, I am fairly certain I am on the top of any scale for measurement of a person’s fanaticism for Star Trek. Seriously, I am a huge fan and trivia and facts about the show are deeply rooted in my mind. One wonders what thoughts I could think if my brain weren’t populated with episode titles and quotes and guest stars and alternate reality theories about the crew of the Enterprise and their comrades. I love the show in all of its incarnations (the Original Series and Deep Space Nine being tied in my mind as the best televised versions) but I came into adulthood watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is not overstatement to say I never missed an episode.

When you watch something that carefully and think about it is as much as I did (and still do), you begin to notice certain cracks in the veneer. Great episodes of the show are great. Good ones are good and bad ones tend to suffer from the same problems which repeated themselves over the course of the show’s seven year run. I won’t enumerate them all here (that’s a subject for a different column in my blogosphere) but I will note that I was thinking of one repeated flaws just this week when my wife – a terrific and talented high school teacher who has been wowing her students for over 15 years – and I were talking about professional development opportunities.

“All professions have their jargon” she said. She really said this. She’s smart and throws out words like “jargon” all the time. “All professions have their jargon but can you think of any profession that changes theirs as much as teaching does? Every time you turn around, it’s some new edu-babble.”

“Edu-babble.” I love it. That word should trend.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, when it got in trouble would often get in trouble because of what the cast came to call “techno-babble.” Techno-babble was made up words and concepts that became more central to shows than plots and characters. Techno-babble was hard to say. Techno-babble contradicted itself. Techno-babble became boring and use of it illustrated a lack of creativity. If the Next Generation characters could just “techno-babble” their way out of a problem, where’s the dramatic tension?

technobabble

See? I know way too much about Star Trek.

I have a degree in secondary education. I was directly involved in high school teaching for almost a quarter century and taught hundreds of classes and thousands of students. I attended all manner and variety of professional development opportunities – some great, some not, most somewhere in between. I have read hundreds of thousands of words on the subject of teaching, given talks and lectures and written articles about it, thought about it with passion. And, of education and the jargon we teachers and administrators use within it, I can safely say this: my wife is right.

(I can always safely say that)

My wife is absolutely right. In terms of the “professional” world, there is no profession that re-writes its jargon with such wild abandon as education. I don’t mean adds to its jargon, by-the-way. I mean changes it, reformulates it, restructures it.

Look, I don’t mean to knock the shared language of education. I truly don’t. I do mean to simply point out that our profession changes its language far too readily. Education inspires great thinkers to think great thoughts. Education knows it should change and adapt. Education understands that it has to be studied, evaluated, written about. Thing is, it seems that every few years, the newest innovation in education (and YAY! for innovating! Keep the innovations coming, big thinkers!) is all too often accompanied by words and language that must be decoded and unpacked (cumbersome, friends, cumbersome). If one is not willing to adopt the language – and now! – one may feel on the outside looking in. When one experiences enough of these cycles, and is told often enough that they are saying it wrong, one stops engaging.

Why do we put the jargon in the way? Why is the edu-babble so important? It’s not that there aren’t excellent new ways of proceeding in education – great practices supported by new research that should be shared and tried and refined; there are wonderful new things to do as educators. It’s just that our profession all too often gets tied up in the words, in the edu-babble.

When the edu-babble doesn’t make sense, teachers – short on time, long on work – resent the time it takes to parse it out. When edu-babble begins to creep into their performance reports and teacher evaluation tools, those very reports and tools can be weakened.

It’s not about the words, friends, it’s about the concepts the words represent, it’s about the ways to help educate kids better. When we get hung up on the language, on getting the words just right, we surely lose the forest for the trees.

I don’t want to know the secret code to be considered a competent educator. I want to be one.

Beware jargon that doesn’t make sense. Beware edu-babble.