Four Leadership Lessons from Star Wars

With the new iteration of Star Wars out this month (The Force Awakens), I felt it was only appropriate to explore and see what we can learn about life and leadership from this iconic movie series.

I remember watching the first one, back in 1977 as a teen. This popular series of movies by George Lucas not only has a cult following, it’s a cultural landmark worldwide. Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia and others have taken their place in our memories, much like James Bond or Superman have done over the decades.

This time, however, I believe the characters remind us of the people we need in every season of our lives. When I examine the story line of Star Wars, it’s clear that certain characters represent the types of people that healthy leaders intentionally maintain in their inner-circles:

Everyone needs a Yoda.

Yoda first appeared in Episode V of the Star Wars series, The Empire Strikes Back. You remember this little fellow, don’t you? He was the former Grand Master of the Jedi Order and also trained Luke Skywalker to become a Jedi. In Episodes I-III, we come to understand that Yoda was involved in training nearly every Jedi in the universe.

Having a Yoda in your life is like having a wise guide at your side. For me, I currently have six Yodas in my life. They are men and women who are ahead of me in their careers or leadership growth and impart wisdom and insights into my life and work. I’ve chosen “masters” who excel in specific areas, rather than expecting one person to be brilliant at everything. I take them to lunch or coffee and bring a pad of questions with me. I always grow.

Question: Do you have a Yoda in your life?

Everyone needs an R2-D2.

I’m sure you recall this little guy. R2-D2 is the unforgettable robot who, with his constant companion, C-3PO, helps the most influential characters in the Star Wars saga succeed, including Anakin Skywalker, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Obi-Wan Kenobi

In the films (including the one being released this month), we see R2-D2 play key supporting roles. Early on, it’s helping Princess Leia deliver an urgent message to Obi-Wan Kenobi. In The Empire Strikes Back, it’s accompanying Luke across the galaxy to help repair C-3PO and override city security computers. And in Return of the Jedi, it’s rescuing Luke, Leia and Han from Jabba the Hutt.

Do you get the picture? R2-D2 represents that person who’s always there to lend a hand, helping you reach a goal. I have twelve people that play the role of R2-D2 for me. While they have lives and priorities of their own, they possess complementary gifts and an interest in helping me achieve my mission. Perhaps its because they know I need help. I cherish their role in my life.

Question: Do you have an R2-D2 in your life?

Everyone needs a Chewbacca.

I love this guy. Chewbacca, nicknamed “Chewie”, is a loyal friend to Han Solo and co-pilot on Han’s Millenium Falcon. The story goes that Chewie became Han’s sidekick after Han, who was serving as an Imperial officer, refused to kill him, causing Han to be dismissed from the Imperial Navy. After this life-saving event, Chewie felt forever indebted to Han and swore to protect Han indefinitely.

Any Star Wars fans can tell you about Chewie’s fierce loyalty to Han. He’d take a bullet for him, and more than once in the series, Chewie used his height and strength to guard and protect those he loves. In fact, Chewbacca was named one of the “greatest sidekicks” in film history by Entertainment Weekly.

I have three Chewies in my life. They are close comrades with whom I have lots of history and have accumulated lots of loyalty and trust over the years. They offer accountability through tough questions and support when I need it most. They are peers, but they are also fans.

Question: Do you have a Chewbacca in your life?

Everyone needs a Jar Jar Binks.

Episode I of the series gave us this interesting character. Intended as a form of comic relief, Jar Jar is considered to be one of the most disliked characters in the Star Wars saga. Some say he was a bumbling fool, and some think he’s an unnecessary misfit.

You might be wondering why I think we need a Jar Jar Binks in our lives. It’s because Jar Jar requires a guide to help him, and is probably the most repulsive character in the galaxy. While this seems counter-intuitive, I believe Jar Jar represents people who require extra “grace” and effort from us. They are those who keep us humble and patient, or who need us as mentors in their lives. Jar Jar is an awkward character, but with a heart of gold. He’s the one you’re not drawn to help… but needs your help the most.

I am mentoring several leaders right now. Not all of them are Jar Jar types of people, but a few of them represent people who are difficult for me to connect with. They need a guide. They need a leader. At times, they have special needs. It is good for me to be there for them.

Question: Do you have a Jar Jar Binks in your life?

May the force awaken for you today and nudge you to find these people.

Four Leadership Lessons from Star Wars