How to lead a successful rebellion

Rebel Alliance - DesktopWhile winter dumped its ample bounty up and down the east coast this past weekend, my family made the most of our forced containment by watching the original Star Wars trilogy together. There is something in those movies for everyone – humor, romance, epic battles – even lessons on leadership.

Anyone with the least understanding of leadership knew the Empire couldn’t last. The bad guys were bad leaders! Up and down the chain of command, leaders used verbal and physical threats to move people to perform. Motivating through fear alone only gets you results for so long. I mean, just look at the storm troopers – I’m pretty sure in  the near six hours of film I witnessed, not one ever managed to hit a target. They were horribly incompetent! In the few instances where a lower-level bad guy tried to offer a dissenting view, they were fiercely reprimanded (e.g., classic Vader force-choke-hold scene). Further, fear and loyalty don’t exactly go hand in hand. In the end, the Emperor was undone at the hand of his second-in-command. The empire represents everything we know to be wrong about a command and control approach to leadership.

This is why the “puny rebellion” managed to best the vast power of the empire. They had awesome leadership! What did they have going on that the empire didn’t?

  • Inspiring vision – the rebels were united in their desire to destroy the emperor and restore freedom to the republic. Saving the galaxy is a pretty lofty aim for people to get behind! As we have learned again and again, purpose and meaning are integral to engagement and success.
  • Democratic process – whenever the troops were being debriefed, people were gathered around in a loose group, and the only way you can really tell who was in command was because that person was doing most, but not all, of the talking. Everyone had a voice, as leaders were also open and responsive to questions and feedback.
  • Diversity – the Emperor hired humans – white males, ages 25-45 to be precise. Contrast that with the great variety of members of the alliance. Not only were women far more prevalent (including in leadership positions), so too were people of varying ages and even people of different species. With a diversity of backgrounds come the diversity of perspectives and ideas that converge to drive innovative ideas and approaches.
  • Humane approach – no doubt, the rebels were not afraid to kill or be killed on their mission to save the galaxy – but they knew when persuasion was a better choice than force (“these aren’t the droids you’re looking for…”).

Good leaders ignite people’s passion for a common goal, foster mutual trust and respect, and treat people as equals. It also helps to have the wisdom and powers of the Jedi on your side.

May the force be with you!

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” –Yoda

Many of the truths that we cling to depend on our point of view” –Obi Wan Kenobi

“Do or do not. There is no try.” –Yoda


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