Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

The Leadership Legacy Of A Childhood Hero

Leonard-Nimoy-leadership-legacy

As a writer, there’s a natural tendency to examine events to see how they can shape our understanding of things and generate ideas that can be shared with others. It’s from that perspective that this piece that came to mind on the news of the passing of one of my childhood heroes, Leonard Nimoy, and what insights could be gleaned on looking back at the impact his life has had on so many around the world.

As is the case with many scientists, Star Trek inspired within me a deep love for both real-world science and science fiction. But it’s not just scientists who have been singing their praises for Leonard Nimoy’s work. Indeed, people from all walks of life have been joining in the choruses of expressing gratitude for the influence his work – and in particular his portrayal of the legendary character Mr. Spock – has had on their lives.

Granted, for some, it might be hard to appreciate what’s behind all these tributes from people all over the world, not to mention heads of state and leaders of some of the world’s largest organizations. That is, of course, until we recognize that in those tributes we see people talking less about his work playing the fictional character Mr. Spock, and more about how his work influenced them.

Of how the character he gave life to inspired so many to challenge themselves to not only believe in a better tomorrow, but to become active participants in making that idea a reality.

It’s from that lens that I decided to write my own personal tribute to this childhood hero of mine, by sharing some stories from his life and what lessons we can learn from them about how we can use our leadership to bring out the best in those we lead, as well as inspire them to commit to the vision we have for the future.

1. Find opportunities to address the needs of others
One of the common statements being shared about Leonard Nimoy was how generous a person he was both to the people he worked with and to the numerous fans he met over the course of his life.

Some of the best examples of this can be seen in the efforts he made on behalf of some of his cast mates on Star Trek. For example, when Nimoy heard that Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura, was being paid less than Walter Koenig (Ensign Chekov) and George Takei (Mr. Sulu), he used his leverage as one of the show’s stars to ensure Nichols was paid the same salary.

Then, when plans were made to bring back Star Trek as an animated series in the 1970s, Nimoy refused to participate until the show’s producers agreed to hire Nichols and Takei to reprise their parts as well.

Even years later when Nimoy moved behind the camera to direct the fourth Star Trek film, he used his position as the film’s director and co-writer to ensure that each of his cast mates had a scene where they would be the focus of the film.

In light of these and many other efforts Nimoy made on the part of his cast mates and crew, it’s not surprising that Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry began referring to Nimoy as “the conscience of Star Trek”.

Of course, beyond illustrating why so many now are speaking of his generosity and warm heart, what these stories reveal is how Nimoy recognized the impact he had on others; of how he could use his influence and power to affect change which – although not grand in scale – nonetheless had a palpable impact on those around him.

Through his example we can appreciate that leadership is not about being powerful. It’s about being compassionate in how we use our power [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter].

To quote the legendary character he played “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one”.

2. View limitations as a way to make things happen
Although Nimoy would often express his gratitude for what Star Trek brought to his life, in the early years following the original series cancellation, Nimoy was anything but delighted over the fame this role gave him.

Indeed, Nimoy soon found himself so connected to this character in the audience’s eye that he suffered from typecasting – where people had a hard time seeing him play anything other than a logically-driven, alien character.

As a result of this, Nimoy began to fear that he might never be able to leave Spock behind in order to play new characters and different storylines. But rather than try to push this character and all it represented aside, Nimoy recognized that he had a choice – he could see this either as an obstacle or an opportunity to open new doors.

Once he accepted this apparent limitation as a means to challenge his understanding of what’s possible – of what he could do – Nimoy’s career began to blossom and he continued to not only have a successful acting career, but he also became a successful director, playwright, photographer, and poet.

In changing his outlook to no longer view Mr. Spock as a liability, but as something he could leverage, Nimoy opened doors that might have otherwise been overlooked.

As leaders, especially in today’s faster-paced work environment, it’s easy for us to see the various roadblocks and obstacles we face as a hindrance that impedes us from doing the work we want to do.

And yet, as Nimoy’s example demonstrates, sometimes it’s not the obstacles that define what we do, but how we choose to respond to them [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter]; of our willingness to make things happen despite what stands in our way.

In many ways, his experience helps to remind leaders that it’s not enough to do what you love. You have to love what you do as well [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter].

3. Our legacy is defined not by us, but by those we leave behind
Probably one of the most interesting things to see revolving around Leonard Nimoy’s death is the many ways that people are articulating what Nimoy through his character of Mr. Spock meant to them and how they viewed the impact he had both on the entertainment industry and on the scientific community.

For some like myself, Nimoy’s portrayal of Mr. Spock inspired young minds to pursue an education in the scientific realm, mirroring his character’s interest in wanting to unravel the mysteries that encompass our world and how it operates.

For others, his character resonated with them because of his being the outsider; of not fitting in with the larger group and learning to appreciate that it was okay to see the world from a different perspective.

Over the past few days, we’ve heard about how Nimoy used his fame to be an advocate for space exploration, a photographer who addressed body image issues women face by challenging us to question how we view beauty, and a family figure who encouraged us to embrace the gifts and joys of family and the bonds of friendship.

We’ve heard of his efforts to support small towns like Vulcan, Alberta, a town he not only regularly visited to help support their local tourist events, but one he also arranged a special premiere screening of the 2009 Star Trek film reboot in Calgary – complete with transportation for the town’s residents from their town and back – when they couldn’t get Paramount to agree to premiere the film in Vulcan.

In each of these stories, we hear not a retelling of a moment in the life of Leonard Nimoy. Rather, we hear about how his actions and words impacted these individuals. Of the message of hope and inspiration they derived from his efforts, and why this will be what they will remember the most about him.

What all of these public tributes reveal to us as leaders is that our leadership legacy will not be penned by us. Rather, it will be created by those we lead, of what we did to empower them to bring their best selves to the table. Of how we inspired them to not settle for what’s in their job description, but to commit their talents, creativity, and insights to the shared purpose that defines our organization’s collective efforts.

What people will remember most about our leadership is not how much we’ve increased our market share, overall productivity, or even the awards we helped to amass. Rather, it will be how much we were able to connect our current efforts with that vision of a future that we not only want to live in, but we want to play a part in making a reality.

Indeed, successful leaders don’t focus only on today, but on the seeds they plant for tomorrow [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter].

In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether or not you’re a die-hard Star Trek fan like myself to appreciate what we can learn from Leonard Nimoy’s legacy. After all, sometimes our value is not found in what we create, but in what we inspire in others to bring forth [Twitter-logo-smallShare on Twitter].

In many ways, Leonard Nimoy summed this up best in his poem that he shared a few short days before his passing:

The miracle is this – The more we share… the more we have.”

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2 Comments
  1. On March 7th, 2015 at 6:24 PM Lisa said:

    Great article! In a world where the clock hands seem to move faster and the world just comes at us from every possible angle at warp speed, true wisdom is attained when we stop long enough to help out those around us.

  2. On March 7th, 2015 at 8:20 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Lisa; I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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