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 Award-winning business author and broadcaster

Leadership trainer and coach

Keynote speaker

  • Writer's pictureAudrey Tang

Lessons in leadership from Star Wars

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

This piece was adapted in The Sun for "Star Wars Day". (Scroll past lead article in the link)

(spoiler alert for Episode 3 in particular)

One of the most notable – and powerful – leaders is of course Darth Vader, but his own rise to power, and the leadership behaviours that created him and eventually resulted in his downfall, offer valuable lessons for today’s corporate “empires”.

“Good is a point of view”: Praise and recognition is a human need – VOICE it

We all know the power of praise as motivation, and more importantly, even unconsciously, we all know how lovely it is to receive it, and yet while the work Anakin Skywalker did as a padawan was seen, he was not often told, especially not by his own mentor Obi Wan…from whom it would have meant the most. While the Jedi Council was concerned with Anakin’s powers and a wish to supress any arrogance, it was through praise that Palpatine was able to bend his ear and begin his process of grooming. Celebrate your team’s work, pass on praise from clients if it comes to you – not least because sometimes people need help in learning to accept compliments, and in making sure they are offered, it can make a positive impact both professionally and personally!

“You have done that to yourself”: Sometimes good people do bad things for good reasons…but that doesn’t make it OK, an effective leader is aware of their team

It is important to be aware of the needs of your team. While Anakin’s move to the Dark Side was motivated by his love for Padme (and his desire to save her life), this does not necessarily mean his choice was acceptable. Research in the field of “accidental fraudsters” reveals that often people with no criminal history can turn to fraud because of an alignment of a challenging situation, poor coping mechanisms, and the ability to “get away with it.” The “greater good” is still compromised. With a little more recognition and acceptance of Anakin’s emotional struggles, a new pathway – however unprecedented – may have been forged by the Jedi.

“Deceive you eyes can”: Make decisions based on evidence over “tradition”

The Jedi council was unable to sense the presence of The Sith disguised as one of their own senators, but they also paid no heed to growing evidence that the Sith was no longer extinct. “We’ve always done it this way” can be a common chant of long-established businesses, but it is essential to evolve alongside your environment. Within the pandemic, the most successful businesses were those that pivoted to or developed their online presence – even if they had not done it before.

“Allow this appointment lightly”: Leading, Mentoring and “Doing” require different skill sets

Obi Wan was a star padawan, and a revered Jedi, but it is questionable as to whether he was an effective Master/mentor…especially for someone as powerful as Anakin. Obi Wan admits he wasn’t expecting to become a mentor so soon, so perhaps we can give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the outcome; but it is notable that often promotions to a position of leadership happen because someone is very good at their job not necessarily at getting others to do it. The skill set of the Leader, the Mentor and the Team player differ, and each may require training to get right, and simply, some people who excel in one role may struggle in others. It is always possible to learn new skills, but it can be just as important to know that if everyone has an opportunity to also play to their strengths, they may be happier, and reflect this in their overall performance. Communicate with your teams regarding their most impactful personal development.

“I did not put you in this situation”: What may not be of your making may end up being your problem

We cannot always control the outcome of a decision or situation – sometimes all we can do is deal with the reality, saving any recriminations and regrets for a later reflection point (and reflect we must so we can learn). What can help is to draw from times where we have faced challenge before as this can offer us a basic blueprint for moving forwards, and reminds us that we have overcome difficulty before. Resilience research also suggests that adversity can create in us the conditions and fortitude to grow even stronger than before, which plain sailing may have otherwise denied us.

“Twice the pride, double the fall”: Success is a work in progress – never think you are impervious

Eventually, the Death Star was taken down by a torpedo fired in a hole “no bigger than a womp rat”. Even when things are going your way, yes enjoy the journey, but never become so arrogant that you believe you are impervious. Always take a moment to reflect on your own performance, and sense check with your teams and your clients that you are still in alignment with both your values and their requirements.

“Let go of everything you fear to lose”: It is arguably NOT a case of being unemotional, but using emotional intelligence effectively

One of the key reasons that the Jedi avoided emotional attachments was so that they would not be used against them, however, of course in leadership, it is not about repressing emotion, but knowing how to use it. Aristotle – philosophy’s Yoda – in Nichomachean Ethics said “Anyone can become angry – that is easy…to be angry with the right person to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way – that is not easy.”

Emotional Intelligence may be defined as being able to:

- recognise emotions and respond appropriately in conduct and interaction

- express and manage our feelings effectively

- handle interactive relationships effectively

The Jedi’s losses have shown that a lack of emotional attachment doesn’t make you stronger, and it is the friendship, family (chosen and filial), loyalty and connection between many of the Rebel Alliance assisting the Jedi that help triumph in the end…and motivated Darth Vader’s choice to turn back to the light.

(and just for fun - because not even the Empire could escape the last couple of years!)

Zoom/holographic calls ARE glitchy and annoying, but useful for passing short messages

Don’t overuse them – especially in a hybrid work environment, if your teams have come into work (bearing in mind time and commute) because of a promise of “reconnecting in person” and find themselves sitting on zoom calls in a near empty office, rather than interacting, they may begin to question how much you value and appreciate their time.

Everyone has been hit by the wider global situation

Costs and delays have become a factor for everyone…even the Death Star which, being built at the end of Episode 3, clearly took around 20 years to become operational at the start of Episode 4.

Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; or her Radio Show "The Wellbeing Lounge", and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt


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