by Dr. John J. Franey, CEO/Founder of Developing Difference Makers
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The Star Wars movie series is a fun and engaging cinematic masterpiece that excites fans everywhere. But what can we learn from Star Wars about leadership? Simply put, we can learn tons! Roughly defined, leadership is the process by which a person influences others towards a common goal or vision. There are multiple variations of successful leadership, many of which are played out in the Star Wars galaxy. Here is a look at seven leadership theories through major characters in the Star Wars world (don’t worry, no spoilers here for the new Force Awakens).
Han Solo – Situational Leadership: The key to understanding situational leadership is that there are particular forms of leadership and leaders that fit specific situations. There is no better example of this then Han Solo, who is a low-life smuggler, but throughout the original series he showcases his leadership in key situations. He is not a leader 100% of time, exemplified in the fact that he leaves the Rebel Alliance and his friends at every chance he gets. However, when things get tough in certain situations, he comes flying back in to save the day and lead the Alliance. He is made to lead in intense situations, but not necessarily in times of peace.
Princess Leia – Transformational Leadership: Transformational leaders focus on influencing and motivating others, being concerned for their follower’s needs, as well being able to challenge their followers to be more innovative. Princess Leia exemplifies the skills of transformational leadership as she is a great motivator to others to achieve their greatness, even the stubborn Han Solo. She sets an overall vision for the Rebel Alliance that all members of the alliance can believe in and work to achieve. Despite big odds against the Rebels in many key situations, she constantly pushes her followers to come up with ideas for how they might beat the odds. There is no doubt that without Leia’s transformational leadership, the Rebel Alliance would have disbanded quickly.
Yoda – Spiritual Leadership: Spiritual leadership focuses on the leader’s ability to lead others through a hope or faith in a better world. In the case of Yoda’s leadership, his spiritual leadership focused on the Force as an influence on his follower’s actions. Throughout the series, Yoda connects others to this higher calling through his words and actions. When Luke tells him during his training that he cannot believe in the Force, Yoda explains that this is why he fails. He is able to get others to see that there is a higher calling for their lives.
Obi-Wan Kenobi – Servant Leadership: Servant leadership focuses on building better lives for others through service to those others. Throughout the series, Obi-Wan constantly is being a leader for his followers by serving those he was set to protect such as Queen Amidala and Luke Skywalker. He is even told by the Jedi Council that his role is not necessarily to be the greatest Jedi, but rather to prepare the ‘chosen one.’ He pays the ultimate price of servant leadership when he allows Vader to kill him so that his followers can escape and achieve success.
Luke Skywalker – Trait Leadership: The trait theories of leadership focused on the idea that leaders are born with certain traits that separate them from others and make them more inclined to be a leader. Since Luke was the son of Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader), the remaining Jedi knew that he would possess the Jedi traits to lead the rebels against the Empire. They follow him closely waiting for his traits to come through. But as we know from his story, his traits are not enough to carry him as a leader, but rather he needs significant training from Yoda and Obi-Wan to develop into his leadership role, showing us that leadership traits only take a leader so far.
Emperor Palpatine – Autocratic leadership: When you hear the term autocratic leadership, the first examples to think of are of dictators and tyrants. Autocratic leadership is about having complete and utter control over a group of followers, who follow blindly without questioning the vision. Autocratic leaders such as Emperor Palpatine, often rule through ruthless tactics and instill fear in their followers. The Emperor is a ruthless and feared leader who has total authority, even over powerful Siths such as Darth Maul and Darth Vader. No one questions him in fear of the consequences.
Darth Vader – Transactional Leadership: Darth Vader was a master at transactional leadership, which is founded on a leader giving directions to achieve a goal and then rewarding or punishing based on performance towards the goal. It was very clear that all members of the Empire knew the consequences – a Force choke – if they failed to complete a task given to them by Vader. Admiral Ozzel found this out the hard way when he botched the raid on Hoth and was choked out via a ‘Skype’ session. Transactional leaders focus more on the tasks, such as taking on the Rebels, rather than the overall goal or vision. In fact, to his detriment, Darth Vader becomes consumed with the task of destroying Luke Skywalker and loses track of the overall vision of galactic supremacy.
The goal of this blog was to introduce everyone to seven key theories of leadership that are used on a regular basis in organizations throughout the world. By using examples that we can all connect to in the Star Wars movies, the leadership theories come to life in a fun and engaging way. May the Force be with you as you take on leadership in your own organization!