In leadership, there are two things you can count on. The first is that no matter how good of a leader you are, or think you are, there are days that overwhelm you and it feels like you are failing at every turn. The second thing you can count on is when you feel overwhelmed, there are about 10 million leadership books you can read to magically solve your problems.
So, as enticing of an idea as it is for me to pen a New York Times Bestseller on inspirational leadership, I decided in light of May the 4th (be with you), it would be more appropriate and be of more use to you, to analyze a famous leader like Darth Vader and his best and worst leadership strategies.
Is Your Vision Vader Approved?
Without a captivating vision as a leader, every other piece falls down. When you are putting a vision in place it has to inspire, create a sense of urgency to accomplish it, and push the limits of what you think is possible. Think about this in terms of Vader. Galactic Domination taken by Force (pun intended) and ruled by Absolute Power! Every move made up until his death was focused on this vision. Does this inspire? For the fanatical employee of the Empire it sure would, and it surely pushes the limits of possibility while creating a sense of urgency to succeed. Think about your own company and your vision. Does it inspire, does it create a sense of urgency, and does it push the limits of possibility? If it doesn’t do all three then it may need revising.
The Force Is Strong With This One
One of the most important duties of a strong leader is recognizing and developing apprentices. In order to do this you have to have the right people, in the right roles, with the right talents to succeed. It seems obvious, but many leaders get this wrong. Talent cannot be taught according to Buckingham, author of First Break All the Rules. If you agree with this – and I do – then you have to utilize the unique talents of each employee in the correct setting or you’re wasting them. When their talents aren’t being used, they become disenfranchised. This leads to low productivity, which makes your vision difficult to execute, in turn causing others’ performances to drop, and so the cycle goes. Vader had the wrong people in the wrong seats many times. This was demonstrated by the number of times he had to use the force to choke people into better performance. You don’t want to be choking your employees to get better results…most of time.
Remember, You Are Always On Stage
This one is a personal favorite of mine…mainly because I have to tell myself it so many times and still fail to react appropriately in many situations. The way you handle stress, success, a loss of a client, a tense situation, your reports, your leaders, and those you disagree with will be mirrored in those who work for you. Even an off-hand comment here and there will tell others that this is an acceptable behavior or viewpoint to have. Conversely, a good attitude, a compliment at the right time, or stoicism in the face of adversity goes a long way in creating the type of behavior you want repeated. This is evidenced in the two scenes below. The first is how you should act when a bad situation arises; the second is what you actually want to do. Which do you think is more effective?
(Jump ahead to 10 minutes and 23 seconds)
The previous three are the most important leadership tips I learned from the Dark Side. However, there are other important qualities that deserve to be mentioned:
Seek Out Strong Mentors
Vader learned from the best, and it is important as a leader to continue your development by having a strong mentor(s) in place.
Proactively Manage Risk
Vader was out hunting down the risks to his vision of Galactic Domination. You should be doing the same within your company. Convert and develop those that are living out your vision (Vader did not really think through trying to convert Luke though). For those who cannot commit or refuse to join the vision, well don’t get as drastic as a Sith Lord, but you need to do what is best to succeed.
Delegate, Delegate, Delegate
If you are doing everything yourself, you aren’t developing the next leaders in your company and eventually you will burn out. Vader had the storm troopers and other leaders and he used them well. Remember, you can still come in and be the hero every now and then. Just like Vader came in to battle Luke in the X-Wing.
Rest & Recovery
Vader enjoyed his meditation time in his strange pod. Not sure this is what I’d recommend but Rest, Recovery, and Exercise. If you aren’t taking the time to do all 3, well enjoy your high stress levels. I finally started doing #3 again and it was the missing piece in my effective leadership.
Thanks Vader, for setting such a stellar example for this leader!
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