Four Lessons In Leadership From Star Wars

1. Remember, even Death Stars get disrupted

Evil Emperor Palpatine expected his regime to lasted for 10,000 years. But it didn’t turn out that way. He ended up being disrupted by the Rebel Alliance.

The same principle applies in the corporate world. By adopting a ‘protect’ strategy, even the most powerful organizations create blind spots that can be exploited by brazen disruptors.

“As a leader, protecting the value you’ve created can feel like the right thing to do,” says Eleanor Winton, an expert in disruption, innovation and foresight, and co-author of The Disruption Game Plan. “You build the equivalent of the Death Star, a protective shell around your business and your market, to keep competitors out and cement your position. You assume it’s enough, but the X-Wing that swoops into your market – and changes things forever – could come at any time.”

2. Be ready to do battle against the Dark Side

In Star Wars, the infamous “Dark Side” can be compared with business-first thinking, where customers are a source of revenue to be sold to, according to Charlie Dawson, co-author of The Customer Copernicus. On the other hand, the heroic Rebel Alliance is fighting on the side of customers to make markets work better, but needing to draw on special powers to prevail.

Dawson believes that organizations must escape “the Death Star gravity of sales targets, bonuses for pushing to hit them, and punishment for failure”. These ideas may be effective in the short term, he argues – but, ultimately, they are doomed.

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The battle against the Dark Side will only be won if businesses succeed in harnessing forces that challenge people’s shared beliefs. They need to take big, tangible actions that make life better for customers – which will, in turn, make life better for businesses, too.

3. Balance like a Jedi

In The Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker asks Rey what she sees. Her reply is: “Light. Darkness. A balance.”

“The truth is, leadership is all about balance,” says Dr Brian Glibkowski, author of Answer intelligence: Raise Your AQ. “Inspire, but also hold people accountable. Focus on production, but also on production capability. Promote work-life balance. Leadership is about yin and yang, but ineffective leaders often emphasize one aspect of it over another.”

4. Forget about command and control

Darth Vader favours the command-and-control leadership model. As such, he is unlikely to inspire peak performance in his team, according to Paul Hargreaves, a B-Corp Ambassador and author of The Fourth Bottom Line: Flourishing in the new era of compassionate leadership.

“Vader would not tick any of my boxes for good leadership,” he explains. “For example, vulnerability is a key quality of today’s leaders, together with an ability to admit mistakes. Neither of these are seen too often in Lord Vader.”

Hargreaves notes that while Darth Vader may have started out as a “good-hearted young man wanting justice”, he quickly became the very opposite. He adds: “Today’s leaders must maintain their love of justice, fairness and equity and stand up for those within their organisations who have a quieter voice.”

One final reflection, on top of all the lessons above, is the importance of challenging the status quo – especially when you have reason to believe that your organization’s strategy or stance poses a threat to its relevance. It’s easy to fall in with the crowd. It’s a lot harder to stand up for what you believe in, especially when yours is the single, lonely voice piping up in a meeting where everyone else seems to agree with each other.

When you find yourself in this situation, remember that the best business solutions don’t necessarily arise when you blindly follow others – in fact, you can end up going down completely the wrong path.

As Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi so wisely observes: “Who’s the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?”


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