Star Wars, being the veritable mine of awesomeness that it is, teaches a variety of lessons. Yoda teaches about determination and focus (“Do or do not; there is no try”). Vader proves that it’s never too late to be redeemed and forgiven. Han Solo shows that even if the odds are against your success (or survival), you can still make it work.
Though you can derive many life lessons from this classic, there are also a few things Star Wars can teach us about business and some common mistakes to avoid.
1. Rule by Fear
The biggest leadership mistake Vader makes is punishment by force choke. He first uses it in the infamous “I find your lack of faith disturbing” scene, for someone who merely expresses an opinion he disagrees with. This act inspires fear in those he commands. Later on, he ends up killing a different admiral for making a simple mistake just before a significant battle with the Rebel Alliance. Between both of these situations, those under him are ruled by fear, knowing what will happen should they go against him or mess up.
Never use fear to inspire motivation or productivity. You don’t want your employees to fear you. Fear lowers morale and productivity. It also leads to anger, and anger leads to hate, which leads to suffering: none of which are good for the workplace.
2. Have Zero Tolerance for Mistakes
To go along with the previous lesson, is another: the Galactic Empire has no tolerance for mistakes. When the admiral in charge of the Hoth battle messes up, he’s immediately killed and replaced—right in the middle of the battle. This leaves the Empire’s command in a state of confusion, as they adjust to new positions. This is why the rebels win and escape so easily: the Empire’s officers don’t know what’s going on.
While some mistakes do need immediate discipline, most mistakes and failures can be fixed simply by addressing the problem and correcting the employee. Then, in the future, your employee will be prepared to handle challenges appropriately and without the fear of condemnation. And in a state of crisis, don’t replace a person in charge unless you have someone who can immediately jump in and take charge without any hesitation.
3. Fail to Learn from Mistakes
The Empire regularly fails to learn from their mistakes. They spend millions of credits building the first Death Star, only to have it destroyed by a simple structural flaw. Then—blindly going after this one goal to the exclusion of all else—they start building a second Death Star, wasting even more money. They don’t even consider another possibility. To top it all off, the second Death Star has an even bigger structural flaw: an entire ship can fly through it, straight to the core.
When you’re leading a business, you need to be able to accept your mistakes and learn from them. If something doesn’t work the first time, figure out why it didn’t work and what you can fix to make it work. That doesn’t mean you should build a bigger Death Star. It means you should go back to the drawing board to figure out if there’s a better way to accomplish what you want.
4. Fail to Recognize Inside Talents
Rather than cultivate leadership abilities within its own forces, the Empire tries, again and again, to recruit Luke Skywalker to its side. This is a faulty plan for succession, and not just because Luke is part of the Rebel Alliance. Having only one person geared to take over means that if anything happens to that person and those already in charge, the entire Empire will collapse. Which is exactly what happens.
In business, you need to cultivate leadership abilities in your employees. Encourage those talents. Take notice of them, and have multiple ideas for who can take over for you. You don’t want your business to go under once you leave. Pay attention and pick the people who can keep your business afloat. Besides, it’s much cheaper to hire and promote from within than it is to outsource big talent.
5. Ignore Outside Advice
Towards the end of the story, the Emperor and Darth Vader take council only with themselves. They don’t listen to advice from anyone else—assuming anyone was brave enough to offer it. They issue the commands and expect everyone else to immediately obey (and heaven help those that don’t).
Let your employees have a say in the business and the decision-making process. Let them contribute. Hold meetings and listen to the ideas they have. Implement some of the better suggestions. When you show that you trust them and that they are making a difference to the business, your employees will work harder and you will have a pool of resources to tap when you approach challenges.
The Galactic Empire can teach us a lot about leadership and what not to do in real-life business situations. By learning from these lessons you can ensure that your business doesn’t become a relic from “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.”
Jake Magleby has written extensively about effective marketing, sales, and financing strategies to help small business owners succeed in the fast-paced and ever-changing business world, through services like a free website report. He also has an interest in education and development.
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