Saturday, December 10, 2016

Leadership lessons from unusual places: Star Wars

At Symposium this year, I gave one of my favorite talks: leadership lessons from unusual places. I sometimes like to find leadership lessons in unusual places. Looking for leadership lessons through the lens of unexpected sources can be interesting and insightful. In this session, we learned about leadership from various sources including: Disney's Mulan (coaching), Breaking Bad (commitment, hiring), Star Wars (taking on a new role) and My Little Pony Friendship is Magic (relationships).

While I've written about these leadership lessons elsewhere in my blog, I'd like to share them again here.
Let's start with my original example: Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. When I first looked for leadership lessons from unusual places, I started with Star Wars as my example. Pretty much everyone has seen Star Wars, so it makes for a good starting point. We all have that common ground.

But as we look for leadership lessons here, I need you to use a different lens. Don't look at Star Wars as space opera. Rather, look at it as an example of leading through change.

First, you have the Emperor. But before we can discuss him, we have a "news flash." It appears the Emperor has died in an industrial accident. While touring the "peace moon" known as the Digitally Enhanced Array, Troop Habitation, Satellite Transmitter And Receiver (aka "DEATHSTAR") the Emperor has met his untimely end. We don't know much at this time, but we can assume leadership will move down to the next "rung" on the ladder: Darth Vader.

Vader has a very similar leadership style to the Emperor. He's callous, officious, and sometimes micro-managing.

Now assume the persona of someone providing advice to Vader during this difficult transition in leadership. What advice would you give Vader to help him in his first 100 days?

In my Symposium session, I asked the audience to share their advice. People recommended Vader communicate his vision to the admirals and other leadership within the Empire. Understand the organization, learn how they operate. Maybe do a SWOT exercise to identify focus areas. Overall, he should share his broad themes early.

But wait! We have another "news flash" from the forest moon of Endor. It turns out Darth Vader also perished with the Emperor, at the hands of Luke Skywalker. Effectively a coup, Skywalker will now assume the mantle of leadership. We don't know much about Skywalker, but as a Rebel we know that he is the polar opposite of Vader and the Emperor; we can assume his leadership style will be quite different, as well.

Consider your persona of someone providing advice to Skywalker during his transition to the seat of power. What advice could you give to Skywalker to help him take on this new leadership role?

At Symposium, I asked the audience to give their advice. People responded that Luke should meet with the existing leadership to help them understand who he is, and what he wants to get done. Talk about his leadership style. Communicate broadly, and build relationships. Overall, people recommended that Skywalker share themes about his transition so others knew what to expect.

Consider the recommendations. Read them again.

People gave the same recommendations for leading through change regardless of leadership style. We expect Vader and Skywalker to have very different leadership styles, but how they lead through change is the same:

  • Communicate your vision
  • Understand the organization
  • Identify focus areas
  • Build relationships
  • Share broad themes early

It doesn't matter what end of the leadership spectrum you are at, you should follow the same guidelines when leading through any transition.

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