5 Leadership Lessons from The Galactic Empire

Leadership is a constant learning experience. You can’t simply look at a great leader and follow his or her formula– it takes trial and error, and learning from your mistakes. While it does help to see what makes a successful leader, you also have to look at why failed leaders don’t succeed… which brings me to Star Wars.

With the 3D rerelease of The Phantom Menace, the Star Wars name has (for the millionth time) found a way to reignite its relevance in popular culture. But long before Jar Jar Binks was introduced to the saga, the original trilogy was teaching some great things not to do when it comes to successful leadership. Here’s five things we can learn from the failure of The Galactic Empire:

1. Don’t build an organization around particular people – By the end of Return of the Jedi, we realize that the Empire is nothing without the Emperor and Darth Vader. They spent all that time gaining power and expanding their reach, but didn’t leave any way for the Empire to continue in case something happens to them (which it does). Make sure that there’s responsibility and talent on all levels.

2. Give people the chance to have stake in the organization – This goes along with the first one, but there’s an important difference. Once you give people responsibility, you have to give them reason to care. In the eyes of the Emperor’s underlings, there was no reason to work extra hard or be unique in any way– if they did, they surely wouldn’t get recognized for it. This ruins efficiency and makes terrible use of your most valuable resource: people’s time.

3. Have tolerance for failure – When somebody screwed up, the Emperor and Vader usually just killed them. Making mistakes is one of the best ways we learn. If you get rid of everyone the first time they make a mistake, all you’re doing is surrounding yourself with amateurs.

4. Don’t focus all your efforts into a single goal without considering alternatives – Obsession and tunnel vision is a mark of terrible leadership. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be driven and determined, but sometimes you have to alter your course just a bit. The Empire’s narrowed goal of completing the Death Star prevented them from seeing any other opportunities, and it allowed the Rebels to win.

5. Learn from mistakes – Not only do you have to let your workers learn from their mistakes, you have to admit when you as a leader have failed, and what you can do to prevent it from happening again. The Empire’s response to the first Death Star being destroyed was: build another one. They don’t bother to analyze why it didn’t work the first time and learn from it, they just barrel forward.

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