Leadership Lessons from Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The dangers of pride and hubris in Leadership

“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18 (KJV)

The idea of ‘pride going before a fall’ is one of the best known quotes (or misquotes) from the Bible and never is the saying more true than in the context of leadership. The new Star Wars film, provides some interesting lessons regarding haughtiness and in this post we will examine three characters from The Last Jedi who suffered consequences from pride effecting their leadership.

Beware! Spoiler alert! This post discusses plot detail from the new Star Wars film, The Last Jedi.

The Tirant: Snoke

The Supreme Leader of the First Order is the terrifying Snoke, a Master of the Dark Side and someone who built their power base on fear.

History clearly demonstrates that fear is a powerful tool to control people and has been used many times by leaders to consolidate and hold onto power. But fear does not set the foundation for lasting success or a positive legacy. Fear is a powerful short-term motivator but people will take the opportunity to be free of fear given the opportunity, and empires built on fear will eventually fall. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and fear is a poor leadership strategy.

A climate of fear creates an atmosphere where those surrounding the leader cannot speak the truth – especially when sharing bad news – as they want to avoid becoming the object of wrath. This lack of honesty can result in a leader becoming overconfident and for them to look down and underappreciate those around them. It makes the person at the top believe in their own myth of infallibility and makes them blind to genuine threats, both to them and their organisation.

It was this hubris, blindness and condescension that led to Snoke’s downfall. He misjudged Kylo Ren and could not see the threat from Kylo Ren when Snoke believed he was totally under his influence.

Leadership top tip:

If you are prefer a leader who prefers a more directive approach, make sure you have people around you who are empowered to give you feedback, however challenging it may be.

Movie recommendations:

Downfall (2004) and The Death of Stalin (2017) are two other powerful stories that illustrate the paranoia and eventual demise of regimes that are led through fear.

The Maverick – Poe Dameron

Poe Dameron is a self-confident fighter pilot who is most comfortable when leading from the front and taking action. He is a talented tactical commander with a reputation for courageous deeds. His attitude is best summed up when he asks General Leia Organa for “permission to jump into an X-wing and blow something up.”

This focus on direct and immediate effect means Poe is a great tactical leader but often lacks the vision for longer-term strategy. His head-strong pursuing of tactical gains, against orders, leads to a demotion early on in the film. Poe also feels entitled to know the plans of his superiors and his strong opinions soon create friction with his new commander. His superior, Vice Admiral Holdo, is a different type of leader both in appearance (as Poe comments upon) and style, and this creates further distance and misunderstanding.

Poe has the best of intentions but allows his errors of judgement to compound. He makes some very risky decisions that result in division among the Rebels and internal conflict during a time of crisis. Heroic and daring as he is, his plans fail and it is late in the day before he understands his commander’s intent and value. It is a costly path he treads to learn more self-awareness and humility.

Leadership Top Tips:

To be a good leader you also have to be a good follower; it is important to be loyal to those that lead you and learn from them. You may have much to contribute but as Steven Covey says, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” If you like to lead from the front make sure you take time to step back regularly and see the bigger picture.

Movie recommendations:

For more maverick fighter pilots who need some humility you don’t need to look any further than Top Gun (1986). Patton (1970) is a good case study of a strong willed commander, with excellent tactical ability, who had a character that made him divisive.

The Mentor – Luke Skywalker

At the beginning of the film Rey has finally found Luke Skywalker on a remote island, on an even remoter planet, where he has been hiding away. Luke has been in retreat ever since he failed as a leader and this disaster meant Luke cut himself off from the Force.

Luke feared failing again. He could see the vanity that had come from believing in his own legend. He had seen the fallout of his arrogance but the lesson he took from this was that he should never lead again. He thought he was disqualified by his mistakes.

Fear is poor leadership tool and it is an equally poor driver when it comes to making decisions. When we make decisions from poor assumptions or defeater beliefs we rob ourselves (and potentially others) of positive ways to progress.

Luke is a Jedi Master, but it takes his own mentor, Yoda, to help Luke to put his past mistakes into context. Yoda eloquently states, “The greatest teacher, failure is”. In other words we should learn from our errors in order to be a better leader.

Rey is the other person that helps Luke to reassess his position. She demonstrates the need and desire for Luke’s leadership, despite what has happened in the past.

When Luke accepts the past, brutal as it is, with peace and forgiveness, then he ignites a new resolve and is able to bring leadership in a new, dramatic and incisive way.

Leadership Top Tips:

Even when we are experienced leaders we still need mentors and coaches of our own. We should always be open to learning and that means learning and gaining inspiration from those who look to us as their teachers as well.

Movie recommendations:

Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) has to face and overcome the fear of his heritage in order to fulfil his destiny.

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