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May The Force Be With You. Leadership Lessons From Star Wars

YodaSince my wife and children are still on holiday, I thought I’d take the opportunity to have a Star Wars marathon for the first time since the second trilogy came out a decade ago.I have always been a big fan. I remember my mom looking at me and wondering whether i had nothing better to learn than Jedi quotes in order to pass through high school, so i always feel like a teenager when watching the saga.

I did learn a lot, not enough she would say, of knowledge and social skills at school, but I learned wisdom in mythology. The Illiad, Odysseus, the Old Testament, The Ramayana, the Mahabharata…Lord of the Rings, Star Wars. These last 2 have had as much influence on who I am, or should be, than the other ones. And there is wisdom in them too,

The overall plot of Star Wars is a lesson in leadership. The dark side of leadership through coercion and terror by the Siths and the brighter, more caring and engaging leadership of the Jedis. Both Anakin and Luke have the potential for good. Over time, Anakin let’s anger, hate and suffering  take over and joins the dark side.

Which one do you want to be? Anakin or Luke? Sith or Jedi?

The following quotes are taken sequentially from Episodes I, II and III

“Master, didn’t you tell me to focus on the future?” “Focus on the future should not come at the expense of the moment”

Vision without execution is a dream, right? Leadership doesn’t only require setting a direction and a strategy. Leaders also need to focus on the present in order to enable execution.

“You should be proud of your son, he gives without any thoughts of reward.”

Build it, they will come. The more you give to others without hidden agenda, the more inclined they will be to trust you and share with you.

“I am so proud of you, you brought hope where there was none.”

Things aren’t always easy. Leaders are those who can infuse optimism in their team. When facing adversity, Focusing on opportunities, doesn’t mean forgetting about issues  but it allows people to stay positive.

“Training to be a Jedi is not an easy challenge, and even if you succeed, it’s hard life.”

Leadership isn’t an easy life. Since people have decided to follow, leaders, to a great extent, are responsible for them. Responsible for creating the conditions for success, which might entail unpopular decisions, tough discussions, conflict…and doubt.

“You can’t stop the change anymore than you can stop the sun from setting.”

Leaders should not only be open to change, they should actively seek it. Am not talking about change for change’s sake but about restless dissatisfaction. Since perfection doesn’t exist, there is always room for improvement.

“Hard to see, the dark side is.”

Lack of self-awareness is the first step to the dark side. Understanding your own mental model and its impact on your behavior and relationship to others is crucial to leadership. How can a leader engage others if he/she doesn’t understand how they operate themselves.

“Remember, stay focused! Focus determines your reality.”

It is no spoiler to see, once again, that Steve Jobs was a Jedi knight. Focus was his mantra. Once you have set the direction, pursue it relentlessly.

“Sometimes we need to let go of our pride and do what is requested of us.”

Leaders don’t always get what they want. In the Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous world we live and work in, authoritarian leadership is just not as effective as collaborative leadership to attract and retain talent. Collaboration means letting go of our own certainties in order to work together towards a common goal. Easier said than done. Pride is what turned Anakin to the dark side.

“Attachment leads to jealousy, the shadow of greed, that is.”

Money, perks and other status symbols are nice. However, making these a goal rather than an appreciable by-product of success, pushes leaders and organizations to the dark side. When people or organizations put the profit motive above all other purposes, we usually end up with bad products, poor service if not downright unethical behavior.

“All who gain power are afraid to lose it, even the Jedi”

Leaders are influential. Influence does not come from position, power does. Influence is the result of the engagement you have have with others, the clarity with which you articulate your vision and the willingness you create in others to be with you. People who rely on position to lead might get very good short term results but are usually challenged rapidly.

Finally, the parallel between the discussions that Anakin has with Yoda and Palpatine are a good summary of the differences between leading with the Force and leading from the dark side.

I have dedicated this post to my dear mother. I told you mom that it wasn’t a waste of time.

Post by Guillaume Gevrey – Director & Principal Consultant