Career Lessons from Battlestar Galactica

Battlestar Galactica's StarbuckIf you’ve watched Battlestar Galactica — and if you haven’t, what are you thinking? — you know Starbuck. She’s the edgy, undisciplined Viper pilot on a mysterious quest when she’s not emotionally torturing Apollo, her erstwhile boyfriend and commanding officer. Though she does allow herself a cry every now and then, people don’t come tougher. She’s attacked Cylons with butter knives, was ready to follow an order to nuke herself, came face to face with her own burned corpse (one of those  teary moments), and always manages to dust herself off and go back to work.

Before you jump to the conclusion that I’m going all kinky on you, here’s why I want Starbuck: I want her as a coach. For all her moodiness, she steamrollers people to get things done but few don’t respect her. She understands the mission, knows her role, and when push comes to shove will do pretty much anything to get the job done.

I realize that, say, project management or software development aren’t the same as searching for Earth while being chased by an overwhelming force bent on your annihilation. But we all have our days, and it’s for those I want Starbuck. Consensus and teamwork are always important, but sometimes we’re so afraid of having the group go against us, we back away from making the arguments we should. Fierce passion, expressed correctly, can go a long way toward bringing people around to your point of view.

You have to know your stuff, of course — the business, the problem you’re trying to solve, how you plan to get it done. And, passion should never equal rudeness. But nothing that comes out of Starbuck’s mouth is ever half-assed, or half-felt. She knows her stuff, she believes in her conclusions, and she goes from there.

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and they rarely balance out. I know folks who are mostly strength, but the majority of people — including me — tend to believe they dip in the other direction. To find the balance, you need to be honest with yourself about where you should bulk up. That’s hard. Aside from showing me how to argue more effectively, Starbuck would dope slap me to get me to look in the mirror.

Now, of course, Starbuck (who plays Katee Sackhoff in real life) isn’t going to show up at my door any time soon. But it would be nice if I could channel her toughness, her smarts, and her passion. The cynics out there might say I’d just be more annoying in meetings. But I’d argue that when a bunch of people get together for a strong and honest debate, they come out with better conclusions, smarter project plans, and a tighter sense of cohesiveness. They won’t get the cool uniforms and such the Galactica crew wears, but sometimes a good day at work can be satisfying in and of itself.

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23 Responses to “Career Lessons from Battlestar Galactica”

  1. Mark – Very Interesting article… specially since what Ron Moore based Battlestar Galactica was a lot on his experiences as a NROTC midshipman cadet in his early years. The type of behavior that you describe is very much apparent within people in the military. In the military you have to get things done that are not the most pleasant or “cool”, and where consensus is sometimes fine to get, but where there are situations where you have to get things done as told because it means lives.

    My point – there has been a big shift in industry about hiring people with ex-military backgrounds. In the 70-90’s timeframe, ex-military people were considered “robots” that followed strict orders. Since then, industry has recognized that the characteristics of flexibility, mission focus, work ethics and dedication to getting the job done in a rapidly changing environment are the type of skills that they want in their members, so a big emphasis has been made to hire people with ex-military skills.

    Unfortunately that hiring has been centered around the non-combat veterans, the guys that have marketable skills for the civilian world (e.g. IT, Finances, HR, etc), while those veterans that have been combat troops (Infantry, Artillery, Armor), whose skills are not easily translated to civilian skills are some of the guys/girls that are now finding it very hard to find employment upon their separation from the services. If more hiring people got past the fact that the candidate drove a tank for a living, and concentrate on the skills that made that person successful, then those individuals would have a better chance to get employed.

    BTW.. Agree with you – BSG is definitely one of the great series in TV over the last 50 years…

  2. I, too, am a fan of the Starbuck steamroller mentality as long as it is balanced. I use this technique when I am facilitating high performing groups who have quick turnaround deadlines. Agreed, there are people who don’t appreciate this approach, and I do sympathize with them, but a deadline is a deadline. As in — if I don’t get it done, my job is dead.

  3. Great article but this version of BSG is slowly coming to an end. What Ron Moore did was great to watch but now there will be a feature film coming out some time in the near future, going back to the original universe.

  4. actionableitsm

    Excellent suggestions, Mark.

    I am part of the volunteer committee that pulls together an annual, three-day conference for a professional association. In a volunteer group, people want to be cordial, collaborative, and demonstrate all those good intentions. Sometimes, conflicts are inevitable and avoiding facing the tough subjects can lead to indecision, which can be really detrimental to getting things done on a timely manner. There are times to play nice and there are times to put things on the table and have an honest discussion.

  5. Eric Stephens

    You want someone who is an ENTJ from the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
    Only 4% of the population are ENTJ personality types.
    I just happen to be one of them.
    As far as cute and a good pilot, I am not that. But I know where you are coming from.

  6. Loved both shows but Kate’s Starbuck would never make it in the military real or imagined. Apollo would be more suited for corporate and military. Blind aggression works only when ur opponents are morons.

  7. James Green

    Wow dice as really went down hill basing it’s career advise on a fantasy TV show. It tells you how verylittle dice cares about it readers who ate looking for serious career and job hunting advise.

  8. Proud Paulbot

    Eh. I’m more the dark, tormented, individualist type, like:

    * Jack Bauer
    * No. 6 (The Prisoner)
    * John Reese (Person of Interest)
    * Dexter Morgan
    * Sam Tyler (Life On Mars — the real one, not that bastardized version ABC put out)
    * Leroy Jethro Gibbs
    * The 9th Doctor
    * Jimmy Darmody (Boardwalk Empire)

    Bottom line: I’m definitely better off working for myself…