Interview: Starfleet Leadership Academy (Jeff Akin)

Which show is your favorite? And don’t pull this “they all have something-” business. Lay it on us, which Star Trek is YOUR favorite?

This is easy. Deep Space 9. I mean, you’re right: they all do have something, and they are all great in their ways, but DS9 is amazing. I’ve gone so far as to call seasons 5-6 and the last half of season 7 as some of the best television ever aired. Especially given the time that it came out, what they accomplished was amazing. Multi-episode long arcs, political intrigue, all-out war, and a cast that handled diversity in a way very little media had to that point. And…Avery Brooks. That man is a treasure!

DS9 was darker, grittier, and more real than other Trek, but it was also more personal and just as hopeful. It built relationships that carried the season. The series ends with a retrospective not of the various plot points, but of the relationships that were built. It is TV at its finest and Star Trek at its peak.

A lot of people want to create podcasts, what is something that you’ve learned along the way that you feel is invaluable for newcomers to learn?

Three things come to mind. First, is it a lot of work. Second, you will fail. Third, only you can define success and you shouldn’t expect it right away.

I thrive on failure. Andy Warhol, I think, said, “If you aren’t failing, you aren’t trying.” It’s important to know that you will make mistakes. You’ll say things you’ll either wish you hadn’t or wish you had said differently. You’ll get excited about an episode, release it, and no one will even notice. It’s all ok. It’s all good! The only true failure comes when you quit. Look at failure as a step towards success.

In podcasting, success is often glorified as x number of listens or downloads. Maybe it’s defined as x social media followers. If you measure yourself against these metrics, you will be disappointed. Let me say that again; you WILL be disappointed. ‘Keeping up with the Jones’s’ is a fool’s errand. Instead, you define what is successful. When I first started I had two measures of success: was I happy with the audio quality and did I release on time. Now I define success with a little more complexity, but not much! I still care about audio quality and releasing on time, but I now measure my assessment, after release, if my analysis was deep enough, or even too deep. That’s a totally qualitative measure, but I want to be sure I’m providing valuable analysis to listeners. What you should notice here is that I never listed downloads or listens. Now, I track some social media metrics and I check downloads every other week, but they don’t define my success; they give me feedback on how effective my efforts are.

How do you utilize Social Media to get your podcast out there? What has been the most effective medium or platform for you to spread the word on Starfleet Leadership Academy?

My primary tool on social media is audiograms. I use Headliner to put together short clips from each episode, along with an image from the show and then I share those. I’ve had some decent responses on Instagram – fun story on that in a second – but most of my success has come from Twitter and LinkedIn. Twitter tends to lean more to Star Trek with some on leadership while I emphasize the leadership side on LinkedIn. That means multiple audiograms! And – another piece of advice and lesson learned here: caption, caption, caption! Caption your audiograms so people can “hear” them without having to listen to them.

When I first started the podcast, I’d share posts about the episode; production notes, trivia, stuff like that. Those didn’t generate much engagement and took a lot of time to put together, so I stopped doing them. I am starting on a new strategy where I’ll share bits from the making of the episode. I’ll keep an eye on the engagement to see how that works. At some point, when I’m able to work it into my workflow, I’m going to begin writing blog posts for each of the episodes as well. Not everyone listens to podcasts and this will help me reach them with my content as well.

Ok, now my Instagram story. One of the highlights of the Star Trek Enterprise pilot, Broken Bow, was Tiny Lister in the role of the Klingon, Klaang. He was perfect in that role, as he was for so many that he portrayed. Well, he responded to my audiogram for that episode! He and I ended up connecting from that. He was doing incredible work in his community and had been sharing his story to motivate at-risk youth across the country. We shared some stories about leadership, but had some great discussions about pro wrestling! He was a huge fan and took Hulk Hogan on in both WWF and WCW! We only messaged back and forth a few times, but I will always treasure that. He was a great man and I pray that he is resting in power.  

Outside of Star Trek, who are some leaders that you look to and draw from as well?

I read a lot, and some of it is even helpful and educational! I have learned so much from authors and speakers like Darren Hardy, Jim Rohn, and Brene Brown. But when I look at people in the industry that I admire, there are a few. Despite his ruthlessness, particularly in his early career, Steve Jobs is someone I look to. In the early days of the Macintosh’s development, he drove people to the brink and beyond, but he matured. He gave the commencement address at Stanford in 2005 and that speech is truly life-changing. He was a man with unparalleled vision and he learned how to enroll others in that vision to make it happen.

Pope Francis is someone that, in my opinion, exemplifies leadership. He leads one of the oldest continuous elected institutions in the world. And that is an institution that is mired in controversy and even criminal activity. Under his selfless leadership, he had brought healing and a level of unity on a global scale.

I look for a few, specific qualities in people that I look to as leaders. One of the key qualities is understanding that you, the leader, are not the important thing. The cause, the mission, the vision…that is what is important. The leader serves the cause, not vice-versa. Most of the greatest leaders are people you will never hear about. And they are ok with that. For them, it’s about the difference, and not about them.

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