If you are a person who thinks deeply about leadership and managing people, as you enjoyed Star Wars: The Last Jedi you may have noticed within the Resistance some rather large opportunities for organizational improvement. This post is one take on what we might learn from it, in order to lead more effective organizations.
If Star Wars were real life, now would be the time to ask some very tough questions about where the Resistance is as an organization, and what their mission and goals should be for the future. Like any organization that finds itself far off course, the Resistance must adapt and change, in order to survive.
The first key in such a situation is to see things as they are, rather than as we might wish them to be. In the case of the Resistance, numbers have dwindled to that which would fit on a single smuggling ship. Star players have been lost and resources are down to the barest minimum. So, what are some of the factors that may have led to this point, and what lessons can we learn from them?
Toleration of insubordination and celebration of “stars” over team players
During the evacuation from the rebel base, Commander Poe Dameron defied a direct order from General Organa, an action that directly resulted in the loss of the last remaining Resistance bombers, and a large loss of life. For this insubordination, he was rightly demoted, but the inexplicably light handling of this egregious and costly misstep undermined the authority of Resistance leadership in ways that would prove even more costly later. It is in crisis that a team most needs to be able to trust each other and its leaders. Allowing star players to set their own rules has an insidious effect on the team and forces team members to question whom to follow when the chips are down.
Predictably, at the point of maximal crisis, now-Captain Dameron felt license to lead an armed mutiny against Resistance leadership, having grown accustomed to the idea that only he had the answers or leadership needed for success. No team can afford that level of dysfunction in its ranks. Resistance leadership must evaluate with clear eyes the cost of keeping such a disruptive star in its leadership ranks. No one is indispensable, and team morale suffers when there is one standard for stars and another for everyone else.
Lesson: A culture that tolerates bad behavior from star players does so at a very high cost to morale, as well as the efficacy of other team members.
Narrow Vision About Who Can Be a Leader
Beyond the culture of star pilots, the Resistance has also long suffered from a misapprehension about the role of particular families and bloodlines in its mission of freeing the galaxy from its oppressors. How much more powerful would the Resistance be if, as an organization, it publicly valued and nurtured the aspirations of all who wish to contribute, regardless of bloodline? How much talent has been overlooked because it is assumed that one family had a monopoly on force sensitivity?
More relevant to other organizations, a narrow vision about where leadership can come from can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Rey spoke for many potential contributors when she said, “I need someone to show me my place in all this.”
Lesson: Enlarging the pool of talent will be absolutely critical for the mission of the Resistance, and it can make your organization stronger as well. Removing blind spots about where talent lies can be a first step. Perhaps your organization only considers those from Ivy League Schools or neglects those who have changed careers or have different life experiences. Whatever your organization’s biases may be, it is valuable to inspect them periodically and ask whether you might be needlessly closing the door on potentially great contributors. Then, having clear role definitions and good mentoring in place will help new talent see where they can fit in, contribute, and grow within the organization.
Critical Lapses in Communication
Newly promoted Admiral Holdo started strong with an inspiring speech about the vision of bringing hope back to the galaxy, but then faltered dangerously when she failed to communicate her tactical plans and the WHY behind them. When Captain Dameron expressed doubts, she told him, “stick to your post and follow my orders,” rather than fully hearing his concerns and enrolling him in the mission ahead. Admiral Holdo had a good view of the battle situation and a sound strategy of using the escape pods to save the people on the ship to fight another day. Critically, though, she did not seek or benefit from information that others around her knew – that there was another possible option to defeat the tracking of the ship. This possibility could have been murder-boarded along with other possible approaches in order to determine what the best options were and to fully assess the risks of each. She also failed to make clear her commander’s intent: to get as many people to safety as possible. The result? An armed mutiny led by one of the resistance’s most talented pilots.
Lesson: Leaders need to listen more than they speak. Team member concerns must be fully heard and acknowledged. Finally, your team needs to have a clear understanding of your “commander’s intent” including the “why” behind it, in order to carry out the mission more effectively.
Refresh the spark of inspiration by remembering *why* you do what you do.
Near the close of the film, we see a glimpse of a possible bright future, as a young person infused with a spark of hope, takes up a broom and pretends that it is a lightsaber. Recapturing the “why” behind what you do can light a powerful spark of inspiration that is contagious. The boy in this instance had seen a dramatic demonstration from Rose and Finn of the resistance in action and the why behind it – freeing the galaxy from oppression. They showed him that the life circumstances he seemed trapped in were not the only possibility.
Does everyone in your organization see and take as their own, the “why” behind your organization’s mission? When they do, every team member becomes an evangelist for your mission, and the energy from that will take you miles farther than, “stick to your post and follow my orders” ever will.
Did you see other leadership lessons in Star Wars: The Last Jedi? If so, please include them in the comments below!
Sean Flaherty (2016, March 28). Momentum.
Sean Flaherty (2016, October 21). Connect: Creating a Mission Statement for Your Software Product.