What is it all about

This post is the third part of the “born or made” set.

Dark Matter is an enjoyable show about a six-person crew of a derelict spaceship. One day, the crew awakens from stasis one after the other in the farthest reaches of space. Their memories wiped clean, they have no recollection of who they are or how they got on board. The only clue to their identities is a cargo bay full of weaponry and a destination: a remote mining colony that is about to become a war zone. With no idea whose side they are on, they face a deadly decision.

What do we see in this scene?

During the second episode the crew has to take a difficult decision, help the colony fight their enemies or leave them to their fate and go sell the cargo. During the first episode we learn a little bit on each character and discover they all have strong and deadly personalities (they’re all criminals). So the lingering question is: who was their leader and who should take the lead right now. Up till this specific scene we have only seen one explicit discussion about the topic, which we’ll talk about below. In this scene, one and two (two first characters to awaken) have a conversation about it.

What do we learn from this scene?

In the two previous posts we learned that finding out if a leader is born or made is probably not the right question to ask and that context helps defining the meaning of leadership. In order to lead in a given situation, one has to be the most adapted to it. Whether that person gained it through experience or was born with unique personality traits, if it doesn’t suit the need, then that person won’t be able to lead.

This scene is particularly interesting because we have a bunch of people; all professionals with incredible skills and strong personalities. They all believe they’re the right person to lead, but only few of them express the desire. This is like a poker game where some prefer to show their hand and other to wait and see. Somehow, the leading role has been taken by number 2.

Number 2 is intelligent, smart, strong and intimidating to the male gender. In addition she’s the one who knows best how to handle the spaceship navigation and control consoles. Whereas all the guys were talking about what must be done, she started giving efficient orders. Number 2 explains that she stepped up and that nobody really challenged her directives; which has naturally elevated her to a position of strength.

The context is very different from traditional human social structures. Tribes, companies and the army all have their leadership models and rules. One cannot just decide to become the leader. Here however, the crew looks more like a pack of wolves. Social animals have a ranking system that could be seen as their social hierarchy and the Alpha individual is the one who stands at the top. Alphas may achieve their status by superior physical strength and aggression, or through social efforts and building alliances within the group.

While this is probably a very simplistic setting, it is also one that brings us back to whom we are before having introduced a social hierarchy. Therefore, it’s an excellent example to study real leadership.

In this scene it seems that initiative, guts and aggression may have been the differentiator. But is this really what made number 2 become the leader?

The first discussion about leadership

This second scene happens during the first episode, before the one above. We see the “deadpoolish” number 3, who is the hotshot and big talker of the group lobbying for the position of leader.

This is very interesting for the following reasons:
1. The way he defines a leader:
“Someone who makes key decisions for the group. Someone representing everyone’s best interest. Someone who’s got the final say when there are disagreements.

2. The way he tries to get the job.

Number 3 is someone with a strong ego who explicitly says what he thinks, or want people to think of him. He’s conflicted and loves to create discord. He plays the big shot pretending to be better than the others and he lobbies the rest of the crew to get the job. His description of leadership focuses on three words: decisions, interests, disagreements.

Being a soldier or mercenary, there’s no surprise here that taking decisions is the top priority for the leader. Speaking about disagreements shows that he expects them to happen and someone will be needed to safekeep the cohesion of the team. Interests, however, is a word that seems more personal and even inappropriate. Interests can be defined in many ways indeed. This word is actually the glue between disagreements and decisions. The crew doesn’t know each other and we can expect each person to have their own motives in joining the team; whether they remember them or not. Even if these motives may have changed following their memory loss, they are the fuel for potential disagreements and future decisions.

Number 3 is not a fool, so why doesn’t he become leader?
As the saying goes:

More you push a subject, more you try to sell it and less credible and trustworthy you become. Number 3, while he does love talking, is not clueless. Leadership is a pain! One that number 3 doesn’t really want. Instead, he’s testing the group to see how far he can go with each and remain his own man.

Is the leader really the one leading?

Coming back to number 2, why has she become the leader of the team?

We’ve seen in the previous post that in American Indian tribe culture, no one person was always a leader, and many were leaders at different times. When a warrior was needed a warrior was made the leader. In this case, we have a tribe of mercs who don’t know each other or even themselves and yet they have to learn trust each other and work efficiently. If all are warriors, then what are the competences required to be the leader? Should he be the strongest one?

Number 2 stepped up and has been acknowledged (later on) as the team leader and it’s the context that created it. First of all she’s the only woman in a pack of men and she’s physically their equal if not stronger. By choosing her, they don’t give any other male the Alpha position, creating a stronger bond rather than raising competition.

Speaking of competition, this may also be a male fantasm to have a strong woman leading them and could also be a good PR stunt to the external environment – 1 woman leading a bunch of mercs.

Secondly, number 2 seems to be more well-rounded skills-wise. She’s bossy and knows how to give orders and be heard, she has aptitudes for diplomacy and knows how to navigate the spaceship; which provides additional information about her background.

Number 2 may have been the leader in the past, if they had such thing, but she has an additional reason to become the leader – it’s the only way for her to be recognized as equal. If not for that, her voice may get completely lost. Therefore, to her, it’s a matter of survival.

And finally, the crew’s interests!
As number 3 stated, the leader must represent everyone’s best interests. Most of the crew members do not want to take the leadership position for different reasons:

Number 1 is not comfortable with it preferring the role of counselor, the leader may seem to be taking the hard decisions, but strategic long term choices can be suggested.
Number 3 feels it’s a pain, for him leading doesn’t necessarily come from the top.
Number 4 is the silent strength and his feelings tell him this is only a small fragment of his path. He doesn’t want to waste his energy on leading a bunch of people he doesn’t feel related to.
Number 5 is not part of the crew.
Number 6 is the wise and strong figure and would be the most obvious choice to follow naturally. However for the cohesion of the team he decides to step back and use a coaching attitude.

Taking all this in consideration, can we still say that number 2 is the leader of the team or has she just been rewarded with the leadership role?

Conclusion

Even though number 2 is one of the better choices to lead the crew (probably the best one in this specific case) and while she took the initiative to lead the others, it is solely because the rest of the crew decided this is for the best. Each person weighted the pros and contras to arrive to the conclusion that she may be the most suited person… for now.

There are different angles to approach these two scenes, and if we follow this one it confirms that one can have all the traits required to be a leader and yet not have a leading position. This can be explained by the actual need and who serves best the interests of the team.

Companies have today a very rigid leadership framework based on titles – what if instead they were selecting the leader based on the needs and interests of the moment?
How will it impact short term and long terms decisions?
This is something we’ll try to figure out in the next articles.

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