This is continued from Sci-fi management models #2: Firefly
I feel it's important to point out that the Firefly analogy is not so much about Captain Mal's personality as much as the structure of the Firefly crew, and the kind of leadership.
As for Captain Mal's personality, he is and always will be a soldier, and therefore a uniform-wearer and order giver, despite a veneer of pragmatism and humour.
But the circumstances determine the kind of leader Mal has to be - one who has to tap into the different motivations of each crew member.
There's a great example of this approach in the episode "Out of Gas", when we see how Jayne Cobb became part of the crew.
The scene starts with Jayne and his boss pointing guns at Mal and first officer Zoe's head. With his hands still in the air, Mal makes Jayne question whether he's getting the best deal ... from a position of powerlessness he persuades Jayne that life aboard Serenity will be more lucrative - and just like that, Jayne changes sides.
That's extrinsic motivation, and for some people (like Jayne), and some jobs (like petty crime), money can be a powerful motivator. But for most people, and increasingly for most jobs, intrinsic motivation is far more powerful.
In the book Drive, Dan Pink explains the scientific research that shows us humans are far more about autonomy, mastery and purpose than cold hard cash. And Captain Mal is pretty good when it comes to offering his crew those things in an intertwining dance.
He offers autonomy on a big picture scale - while they're on board Serenity, they're free from government intervention and control, which is important to some degree for everyone. However, they're also under Mal's command, which most times is just shiny, but it becomes important when there's trouble.
That's where mastery and purpose come in. All the crew members are already good at something in particular (piloting, engineering, doctoring, troubleshooting, etc.), and they have an opportunity every day to do their job autonomously.
We usually think of purpose as big and important (and that's what the follow up movie Serenity was about) but sometimes a crisis provides an instant and urgent purpose in miniature. That's when it becomes okay to be a bit more military, a bit more hierarchical.
More on this next time! Meanwhile, Mal explains the first rule of flying. I like this as a rule for life: