Interview: Starfleet Leadership Academy (Jeff Akin)

I have been interviewing some different artists around lately, but I wanted to try something different. I wanted to have a chat with Jeff Akin, the host of Starfleet Leadership Academy. His podcast is centered around analyzing Star Trek episodes and creating lessons in leadership out of them. It’s an extremely original idea and something that analyzes a franchise we all love while creating something really productive for people.

Anyway, if you want to check him out, here’s his WEBSITE

If you can click here to listen on APPLE or SPOTIFY and many other platforms.

And follow him on INSTAGRAM

I’ll get out of your way now and let you read on!

Were you a big Star Trek fan before, or when the idea hit, it just made sense to use Star Trek and then do your research on the show?

Huge fan. I grew up watching Star Trek. I was born in the late ’70s, so it was in full-on syndication. My Mom loved the show so it was something we always did together. She and I saw every Star Trek movie from Star Trek IV (the one with the whales) all the way until the 2009 movie. I remember when Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan came out on home video, we rented it on Betamax and watched it as a family. I really don’t remember a time in my life when Star Trek wasn’t a part of it.

How did you come about analyzing and utilizing Star Trek as a  means of teaching Leadership?

I have worked in leadership roles for over 20 years now; time sure flies! In the last 10-ish years, I’ve had a growing focus on developing leadership qualities in the people around me. I regularly speak at leadership conferences and have had the privilege of teaching in various “Leadership Academies” in the private and public sectors. I have a real passion for unleashing the potential in others and am always looking for opportunities to do that.

A few years ago, I was given oversight of a program that had not had strong leadership for a very long time. Skillsets weren’t what they needed to be, a number of people were in positions that really shouldn’t have been, and morale was very low, if not completely non-existent. The existing managers meant well; they had the best of intentions and had been trying to steer a rudderless ship for some time. To help them stay on task and get things done, they had been meeting daily for about 2 hours at a time. Yes!! Every day for 2 hours!! What did they talk about for ten hours a week, you ask? Well, basically the same thing every day. All talk, no action. After about 2 weeks of this, I had had enough. I finally got frustrated and said, “I want meetings like Captain Kirk has meetings! Issue, discussion, decision. Boom!” And immediately I realized I was on to something. It was as if the floodgates opened in my mind and I suddenly saw Star Trek as a vehicle for conveying leadership lessons.

Had you ever worked in audio before? Or created a podcast before this?

I’m a musician, well, to be fair, I’m a drummer. So, I hang out with a lot of musicians. I started learning drums when I was 8 and was signed to my first record label at 20. I was in a regionally successful band, out of San Diego that recorded its first album in a relatively swanky studio in Escondido. I was immediately enamored with the recording process. This was in the mid-90’s, so we were recording to tape; good ‘ol analog recording! Over the next few years, I would work with other bands and record with many of them. I had a short-term gig at a recording studio outside of Portland doing computer tech work. I worked alongside the engineer and made sure their Mac was running smoothly. That was when I first started learning about engineering sound. Now, to be clear, I was not and am not, by any means, an expert – in fact, I’d say I barely know what I’m doing! But that time gave me the foundational education to at least speak the language. I knew, the second I decided to work on a podcast that I would use a dynamic mic, for example. I even already had an idea of which one I wanted to use. To this day I wish I knew more and often find myself intimidated by the people that talk about “rolling off a little low end” or whatever; I just politely smile and nod sometimes.

My performance background has prepared me for this as well. As a musician, I’ve performed in 3 countries, a hundred or so cities, and in front of many people; often in front of almost no people as well! Before the world was rocked by COVID and the entertainment industry dramatically changed, I worked in professional wrestling. Yep, the “steel chair” and “coming off the top rope” stuff! That was one of the most fun and challenging things I have ever done. I worked in-ring as a referee for a while, as a manager (like Bobby “The Brain” Heenan or Paul Heyman), and I even actually wrestled a little bit. Most of my time, though, I worked as a “stick-man.” I would do ring announcing and commentary. I worked for a few companies that were on TV, one that was broadcast internationally. That taught me a lot about story development, TV timing, sponsor reads, and how to portray yourself professionally in front of a camera or with only audio. For about 2 years I was able to work in the production side of things; sitting in the production truck directing people on the screen, in real-time. It was an incredible experience that taught me so much about broadcasting.

What is the most valuable tool you use as a podcaster? Whether it be a collaborator, tool, service, piece of advice, whatever. What do you NEED to succeed?

Purpose. I have a reason and a purpose for producing this show. I aim to unleash the potential in others. I know I’ve said that before, but it is my drive. I think a lot of people get into podcasting with a limited purpose, or with a goal of having thousands of listeners each episode. For me, I just want to create a quality product that will make a difference for someone. If I have 2 downloads or 20,000 downloads, it’s irrelevant; I am focused on the purpose I produce the show and not its popularity.

I like how you bounce around different versions of the show. When I first heard the concept, I wondered if it was going to be every episode sequentially but you pick and choose from all over Star Trek. Was it just the logical conclusion or was there a bigger decision behind implementing this format?

I decided to start with the 6 live series, including Discovery. The original plan was to mix them up and do them in season and episode order. So, the podcast would have a Season 1, and it would be all the first season episodes from those series; then Season 2 of the podcast would have all the second season episodes, and so on. And this is how I started recording. So the first 6 episodes are the pilots/first episodes of each of the series. But as soon as I was nearing the end of these, I was not too excited about moving into the regular episodes. You see, one of the things about Star Trek is that each series tends to take a few seasons to really find its stride. Some of the early season episodes are, well, honestly, pretty rough watching. And with most of the series having 26 episodes per series, I was looking at something like 2 and a half years to get through all the 1st season episodes. Yikes! I mean, there are so many great episodes and most of them aren’t in the first seasons. So, I knew I had to change something.

Earlier I said that part of my initial prep was to listen to a lot of different podcasts. One of them reviews each of the songs from an iconic band that started in the ’70s. In each episode, they listen to a different song and talk about it. I really enjoy this podcast and part of the fun is they have a “random song generator” that pulls up what they’ll listen to. Their model is that the song is a surprise to them each week. That just doesn’t work for me! I do quite a bit of prep on each episode. So I run the random generator at the end of the episode for the following one.

What I ended up doing was putting all of the episodes of Star Trek in a spreadsheet. That’s 711 episodes for me because I combine the two-parters and haven’t included The Animated Series, Picard, Lower Decks, or the movies (yet). I wrote a random generator macro into it and as I finish recording each episode, I hit the macro and it says what’s next. I am really happy with this approach! It keeps it fun and interesting for me, but it also allows listeners to “move around” the franchise as well.

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