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!
by Dr. John J. Franey, CEO/Founder of Developing Difference Makers
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At this time of year, Santa Claus and his myriad elves are hard at work preparing for another busy, hectic Christmas. We all know that Santa is a jolly old man whose sole task is to bring joy and happiness to the world. From the songs we sing to the images in every store we visit to the long lines to sit on his lap we are reminded constantly of this larger-than-life character who brings a smile to our faces. But what we miss in all of this holiday fun and excitement is the notion that Santa truly is the ultimate leader of a highly, highly effective organization that makes a difference in the world. He leads an enormous organization of employees (elves) who have bought into a common vision, work hard every day to achieve the vision, and do it all while enjoying life and having fun. If only our own organizations could be as successful as Santa’s. If only we could achieve our vision every year while having fun and enjoying our work. So what then are his secrets to leadership that make this possible? What can we glean from this jolly old man to help us to be more effective leaders in our organizations? Let’s take a sneak peek into the home of his organization – Santa’s Toy Shop – to learn more about his leadership and the secrets to his success.
Santa Has a Clear Vision Everyone Can Buy Into: The vision is clear in Santa’s Toy Shop: bring cheer, joy, and happiness to the world by building and delivering toys to every child (well unless you are the on the naughty list). Everyone in the organization clearly understands the overall vision and works hard every day of the year to achieve this vision. Nothing takes the organization away from this vision because it is clear and other goals and visions never sneak into the organization and take everyone off track. A single clear vision provides structure and enables everyone in the organization to know exactly where they are going.
Santa Has Developed an Action Plan to Reach the Vision: A vision is worthless if there is not a clear action plan to reach the vision. In Santa’s Toy Shop, the plan is simple: build toys; test out the toys; decorate the toys; wrap the toys; and then deliver the toys on the big day. Every elf knows their role and expectations and works at their piece of the overall plan to achieve the big vision. The action plan draws the road map of how to get from where the organization currently is to where they want to go in the future. The road map allows every member of the organization to know exactly how to achieve the overall vision through a series of small, achievable steps.
Santa Makes Sure Every Member of the Organization Knows They Are Important: As an organization works through a solid action plan, there is a need for the leader to continue to inspire members of the organization and to make them know that they are important. We never hear about Santa yelling at elves for mistakes or being a leader that elves are afraid of. He positively backs every person in his organization and provides inspirational talks when the work becomes difficult. His positive and joyful attitude instills confidence throughout the Toy Shop and allows the elves to excel at what they are good at. Every member of the organization knows that they are an important piece in achieving the overall vision.
Santa is an Authentic Leader: As a leader, Santa doesn’t try to be something he is not. He isn’t trying to run for political office or getting mixed up in Twitter battles, he isn’t trying to create a new energy drink or trying to branch off into new domains such as clean energy, and he definitely isn’t looking to move his Toy Shop to a warmer climate with lower taxes. Santa is content with being who he is, a jolly old man who builds toys and who wants to make people happy. He knows who he is and lives that authentic self every day. His authenticity builds trust in his employees, and provides them the strength to move forward knowing their leader isn’t going anywhere and isn’t going to change the vision for the organization.
Santa is all About Having a Positive Culture in the Toy Shop: There are few organizations that exist with as positive of a culture as Santa’s Toy Shop. It is a place where everyone is having fun while being highly effective. There is time for fun and playing with the toys. There are built in break times to eat cookies baked fresh by Mrs. Claus. There are times to bring the team together to sing Christmas songs. The elves want to be a part of this organization because there is a positive culture that they not only want to be a part of, but want to add to with their own cheer. Elves aren’t hiding in offices or cubicles hoping they don’t have to talk to anyone or be bothered as they work. There is a team atmosphere embedded within the positive and fun culture that brings joy to the work day.
While few of us take the time during the holidays to think deeply about Santa’s leadership, these five key facets of his leadership show each of us how leadership is enacted in one of the most successful and productive organizations in the world. As we look at Santa’s Toy Shop, we can see a perfect example of the impact of effective leadership practices on an organization. While our own visions of success are probably a lot smaller than bringing joy and happiness to every child in the world, they are nonetheless important for our organizations and the world. So as we return to our organizations after a Christmas season filled with chocolates, toys, gifts, fun, singing, and time spent with loved ones, it is important to remember the lessons learned from Santa’s Toy Shop. We can look to emulate Santa’s leadership in our own organizations and instill a positive culture that is constantly and effectively moving towards a vision that we all agree on. Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!
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With the newest installment in the Star Wars movies series set to open later this week amidst incredible anticipation, I thought it a perfect time to examine leadership through one of the most popular figures in the series: Darth Vader. The entire series is founded on the time-tested battle between good (the Rebel Alliance and Jedi’s) and evil (the Empire and Siths). Darth Vader’s role as one of the top leaders on the evil side makes it very difficult for many people to accept that he was a leader. In our society we are quick to name leaders who we recognize as being on the ‘good side’ of any cause. When it comes to someone who is leading on the ‘bad side,’ we struggle to accept that these people are also leaders, even though they use many of the same skills and techniques that the leaders use on the good side. The main reason for this struggle with naming leadership is that we assign a value to the ultimate goal and if the ultimate goal of the leadership does not fit our ethical or moral values than we cannot accept that leadership is involved. In this case, the ultimate goal of Vader’s leadership is to wipe out the Rebel Alliance and the Jedi’s so that the Empire and Siths can have complete control. None of us would agree with the ultimate goal of Vader’s leadership especially when innocent planets such as Alderaan had to be blown up. However, it is hard to argue with the fact that he was displaying leadership skills, as described below, and ultimately was a leader despite our issues with his vision for a completely evil galaxy.
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. The fear of the consequences, and the witnessing of these consequences enacted on others, motivated his followers to achieve success.
Leadership by Example: One of Darth Vader’s best leadership skills was that he lead by example at all times. He was an active leader who would not just send out lower-level employees – Stormtroopers – to do his bidding, but would rather fight right alongside them. He was at all times a part of any mission that he had tasked others with and would not hide behind his authority role to send others to do his work. A perfect example is when he got into his TIE Fighter to go after the Rebels as they prepared to blow up the Death Star rather than getting on a shuttle to escape. His leadership by example obviously motivated his ‘staff’ to fight harder when their leader was at their side.
Charismatic Leadership: Darth Vader was a charismatic leader in that he had an extraordinary effect on his followers. He had millions of highly committed and devoted ‘employees’ who believed in his vision of wiping out the Rebel Alliance. He does not fit our typical idea of charismatic leadership in that he was not a great speaker who could motivate others by his words, but his devotion to a vision that was shared by all members of the organization was charismatic. Many of his followers were willing to sacrifice all to achieve this vision, which is an example of charismatic leadership.
Of course, all three of these major leadership skills are implemented in the pursuit of an unethical vision – the complete annihilation of innocent people – which can make it very difficult to admit that Darth Vader was expertly implementing leadership skills. This is an example of why there is such a debate amongst leadership experts as to whether the value of the vision and outcome determines whether actions or skills are truly leadership. You may still be questioning whether he was a leader or not, but from my perspective as a PhD in Leadership Studies, I have no doubt that Darth Vader was a top-notch leader, albeit with a really bad overall goal, but what more do you want from a Sith Lord.