Executive Perspective

To Lead My Trek, I Pick Scotty

by PAUL D. HOUSTON


I recently arrived home from another trip–late again. The airline lost my luggage–again. Traveling today makes me long for the future promised in "Star Trek." If you want to be somewhere else, you simply get Scotty to beam you there. You arrive instantaneously–unruffled, unlagged and with all your stuff.

As we approach the new millennium, much of our attention is focused on the future. I often am involved in discussions with other educational leaders about the future of education. On our worst days, we wonder if there will be a future for public education. On our best days, we become deeply engaged in how we might reshape the world to ensure a better education for our children.

To get where we need to go, we will need to have a vision for what we want, a sense of mission that will shape how we carry out the vision and a deep sense of purpose to ensure that it happens. In essence, we have to be visionaries and missionaries. However, we also have to be a bit like Scotty, an engineer who can design the work and get the ship up to speed.

Enviable Characters
I am sure someone will try to capture the spirit of Star Trek by writing a book called Captain Kirk on Leadership. Hasn't each of us wanted to sit on the bridge and call out, "Warp speed, Mr. Sulu," so we could see our own enterprise take flight on a journey where no one has gone before? Haven't we all envied Kirk's coolness and his bravery? He was a captain in charge.

Or perhaps we have envied Spock's logic (if not his pointy ears) in the face of disaster and his ability to keep his head when all around him were losing theirs. Of course, that headiness was countered by Bones McCoy with deep-seated humanity. However, for me the key figure aboard the Enterprise was always Scotty.

Despite unrealistic expectations and demands, Scotty, who filled the role of chief engineer, was always ready to get the job done: "Aye Captain, I'm giving it all that I've got." He would always figure out how to get a little more power out of the ship or how to get the force field strong enough to ward off danger or how to get the rescue party down to the surface. Of all the characters in Star Trek, Scotty comes closer than any to modeling the day-to-day work of school leaders.

A Head and Heart
The truly visionary leader does not merely give vision to the organization as Kirk did. When you think about it, the crew, by following Kirk, was always "warping" around the universe from one galaxy to another. They saw a lot and had great adventures, but I am unclear as to what they accomplished. Organizations must create their own sense of vision, their own destination. Visionary leaders are those who can extract that vision from the organization, articulate it clearly back to the organization and help all to see their own vision so they know where they are going and so everyone can get there together.

Mission-driven organizations have a head and a heart--a Spock and a Bones. It requires both to succeed. A brain without a heart is sterile. A heart without a head is random. Spock lacked humor. Bones lacked direction. Both were great guys, but I would not want to be stranded on a distant planet with only one or the other.

Give me Scotty any day. Scotty was real. He was joyful. He was soulful. He was complete. He was the one to who everyone had to turn in order to get the job done. Without Scotty, Kirk was merely a raging bull on the bridge--shouting orders, fuming and fussing. Spock could use logic until the Tribbles came home, but Scotty made Kirk's vision and Spock's mission flesh. He got the ship where it needed to go.

Of course, when all else failed he beamed them there. A friend of mine has been working on a concept of education, which she calls "Transport-all.Ó " It is the notion that school is a gateway--both a portal and a journey where children must be taken from one place to another. If public education is to succeed in the future, all of them will have to make the journey.

Schools As Transporters
Scotty's machine for transporting the Enterprise crew was both a portal and a way of making the journey. It de-materialized the travelers and rematerialized them somewhere else. It took all of them--everyone who needed to go and all parts of the travelers themselves. Imagine what havoc would have ensued if Scotty had only beamed up their heads or their feet or if he had decided to rearrange their cells and molecules. What a mess.

Yet if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that schools often deny the integrity of our children and try to make them into something else. We do this through failing to honor their cultures, their languages, their homes or their learning styles. Yes, education is about transporting people to places they have never been before, but we also must see that they arrive intact, with their checked baggage also coming through with them.

As we look at the next millennium, it might be a good time for us to see our schools as portals to possibility and our roles as transporters of all our children. Beam us up, Scotty.

Paul Houston is AASA executive director. E-mail: phouston@aasa.org