10 Leadership Lessons from Star Wars

In honor of Rouge One hitting theaters this week, I thought it would be fun to do a post on Star Wars. While most people have seen Star Wars and have grown to love the space opera for it’s depiction of the hero’s journey (and of course the epic lightsaber duels and dogfights), a couple years back I started noticing a different side to the story.

Surprisingly Star Wars has a number of lessons about leadership and management. In fact, when viewed through a leadership lens, Star Wars looks much different than you’re probably used to.

Here’s my list of some leadership lessons that I’ve gleaned from the film series (I try to take a humorous slant with it):

I. Leadership can be a balance between light and dark:

Pretty self explanatory, but everyone has a capacity for good and evil. It’s important to recognize our “shadows” and surround ourselves with followers who will keep us in check.

II. If you don’t like the family business, probably best not to join the competition:

While the perks can be tempting, are you joining because it’s a better company or because you want to get back at your dad for passing you over? Family infighting is never pretty, so minimizing conflicts of interest is often the best strategy.

III. It’s tough to be middle management:

Despite being one of the most terrifying people in the galaxy, Darth Vader often has to do the Emperor’s grunt work. Balancing the Emperor’s high expectations with the realities of the day-to-day operations of the Empire is not a task for the faintihearted. As this scene shows, Darth Vader spends much of his time greasing the wheels of the Empire’s slow acquisition process.

IV. Expecting perfection can be detrimental to your followers’ health:

Sometimes stress on the job can have adverse health effects. This is especially true when your supervisor has the ability to force choke you through a TV. As a leader, try not to take out your frustrations on your employees. Instead take some deep breaths, join a yoga class, do something to take your mind off the job.

V. Avoid bureaucracy like the plague:

Let’s face it, the Empire is probably the largest bureaucracy to be conceived. I mean, they even admit it in this clip from A New Hope. Managing that large of an apparatus probably contributed to the Empires undoing. Especially when coming up against the more nimble Rebellion (think start ups vs. corporations).

VI. Senior employees have a lot of great insights (should probably listen to them):

Luke Skywalker spends much of his screen time complaining that he isn’t moving fast enough in his training. He ignores Yoda’s advice to complete his training on Dagobah and in turn loses his hand and finds out his dad is the most evil man in the galaxy. Only towards the end does Luke finally listen and as a result he’s able to defeat the Emperor and redeem his father. Senior employees have a lot of wisdom and institutional knowledge, listening to them can save a lot of heartache.

VII. It’s important to listen to followers (or hubris is everyone’s undoing):

Sometimes we think that we have all the answers, but our own hubris blinds us to the risks that lie right before our eyes. It’s important to solicit feedback and strive for consensus on major decisions.

VIII. Be careful of who you associate with:

Lando Calrissian is one of my favorite characters (I mean the guy runs an black market mining operation), but he got a raw deal in Empire Strikes Back. Making deals with nefarious people can often back fire and cause you to lose everything. Alternatively, be careful if you’re trying to push a bad deal on someone. You might just push them over the edge and they’ll join your competition.

IX. Never underestimate the power of persuasion:

Even the most cantankerous person can be persuaded if you figure out what motivates them. When that doesn’t work, sometimes you have to come up with a more creative solution.

X. And finally…it’s important to celebrate your successes:

Always give credit where credit is due. Support your followers and they will support you back. Celebrate successes as frequently as possible.