Battlestar Gallactica – Good Leaders and Bad Leaders

When I think of good bosses I’ve had, I think of Barry; a 25 year veteran of the job who had worked directly for the UK government in the field as well as for the private company that we worked for together. Barry was kind. Barry was hardworking. Barry gave me gentle guidance or gentle admonishments when I screwed up. Barry never shouted. Barry was never cruel or demeaned anyone. Barry sat and listened to workers or clients. Barry gave professional reassurance to a worker who was constantly worried about their legal status in the UK. Barry told jokes, even jokes at his own expense. Barry was the best.

Series 2 of Battlestar Gallactica shows us two styles of leadership aboard two battleships whose captains both believe they are alone in the universe in the war between humans and the Cylon machines. In Series 1, we meet Adama, the commander of the Battlestar Gallactica. He is a fair man, but his personal life is difficult especially in his strained relationship with his remaining son. His other son had died in an enemy attack, and Adama finds that Starbuck had passed his deceased son as a fighter pilot when in reality he was not fit for the role. Starbuck had done this because she had been engaged to the younger son and hadn’t wanted to disappoint him by turning him down for the role. When Adama finds that his son died when he shouldn’t have been in a cockpit, he is clearly outraged, but he doesn’t lose it with Starbuck. She knows how he feels about her because of her poor decision, but she is never harmed verbally or in any other way by Adama. He tells her to do a better job as instructor to trainee pilots. He lost his son but he didn’t lose it. This says so much about Adama and his love for his crew members as individuals.

Enter Admiral Cain, the commander of the Battlestar Pegasus that finds the Gallactica when following enemy co-ordinates. Admiral Cain rules her ship with fear and punishment. She shot her second in command in the head in front of the rest of the command team because he refused to carry out an order that he believed would risk the life of everyone on board the ship. Cain found out her girlfriend was a Cylon and gave her crew permission to beat, rape and torture the Cylon over a period of weeks. Cain believed that any kindness shown to her crew would cause their downfall and deaths.

The Cylon escapes from the prison and shoots Cain in the head. The Cylon is helped to escape and joins the Peace Movement.

Adama becomes Admiral after Cain’s death. He appoints the second in command of The Pegasus – the one who succeeded the shot second in command – and this guy has a lot more morals, but is murdered due to his black market connections. The next captain appointed to The Pegasus was the engine room boss Carter. He’s great with machines but not with people nor command, so he added to a terrible situation that killed many of The Pegasus’ crew, but he did pull it out of the bag when he gave his life in the exploding engine room to save the rest of the crew.

Cain had been a dictatorial leader. Cain thought she was invincible. She ruled with an iron fist and made sure there was no competition for her role as captain and admiral. As such, Cain had not trained anyone to succeed her if she died or became seriously ill. Cain did not trust her crew. She showed no compassion, she showed no loyalty. She did have favourites, who were both female. Starbuck became her favourite officer when Cain forced Adama to mix the crews of The Pegasus and The Gallactica together. Cain’s influence on Starbuck made hard hearted and divisive for a period of time.

Adama’s son Lee takes over the captaincy of The Pegasus. Lee is keen to change the way that The Pegasus’ staff think and work – the whole culture that Cain instilled was corrupt, violent and destructive. Lee is keen to change all of that.

At one point in my social care career, I worked both for a private company with homeless people, and also in the NHS. The NHS ward manager (matron) divided the staff team into the people she liked and the people she did not like. Half of the team spent a weekend at her house and the other half of the team did not – the half I was on. When I raised concerns about staff shouting things like “fucking p*** bastard” in reference to an Asian man, I was the one who was told off.

When I raised concerns about the less popular patients being neglected – to the point where one patient who was not supposed to be under my care had hair matted with dead skin, obviously she had not been showered properly for weeks, and I took a bowl of warm water and a comb and spent two hours combing all the dead skin out of her hair, as well as daily bullying of all ward staff by one senior nurse, which included not helping us with patients when we needed help – I was the one who was threatened with false allegations of abuse being made against me, that I would do jail time and I would never work again.

A student nurse said that she did not know how to work with mental health patients and was scared of them. Instead of giving her assistance to develop skills, the ward manager said, “Oh I can’t stand nutters.” The majority of the staff team were simply unpleasant people. They were bitchy and jealous, they made fun of Black agency workers and their names, they made fun of the ward’s social worker for having larger breasts and wearing high heels, they were aggressive and spoke of violence they had committed or wanted to commit, they slated their husbands and one was even open about being accused by a doctor of harming her child.

Compare that with the private company I worked for at the same time, where I worked alone on night shift, or alongside a well functioning and highly skilled and tight-knit team during day shifts. All the staff got on, they all had their roles, they all had their specialisms, and my specialism in complex mental health and rehab was respected. Everyone was focussed on their work. There was no gossip, no backbiting. When one worker quit suddenly for personal reasons, the team spokesperson said to the manager, “We don’t want to know what’s going on. We just want to know he’s alright.” The manager even asked my opinion about candidates who were being interviewed for the vacant job roles. The staff were keen to foster an atmosphere of trust between workers and clients, and to treat everyone with respect.

Many of our clients had no family, and we became their family. We had a worker in her 60s who had opened some of the best services in the UK and fulfilled a grandmother role, we had an ex police officer in his 50s who fulfilled a father figure role, and the rest of us were in our 20s and 30s and were like cousins to our clients. Every client counted. No one was a favourite. Everyone had equal time spent with workers, even the clients who were more self-sufficient.

Which workplace sounds like the most fun for you? Which one sounds more ethical? Which one sounds like a place you would want to work? Which sounds like it leaves the best impact on a patient’s or client’s life?

When I think about great bosses, inspirational people, people I want to emulate, I do not think about the NHS staff I worked with. I think about the staff and managers of private company I worked for, and I think of Barry. Those are the people I want to be like. I hope I can be like them.

About catherinehume

Catherine Hume: Writer, social care worker and a liver of a life less ordinary.
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