A Long Time Ago, In An Office Far Far Away: The Last Jedi Leadership Lessons
Beware, This article has spoilers about the Last Jedi
The Last Jedi continues the story of what happens in the epic Star Wars tale. Who would have thought it has leadership and workplace communication lessons as well?
The Last Jedi opens to a scene where the impulsive, driven, and stubborn Resistance pilot Poe Dameron goes rogue on General Leia Organa. He ignores her order to return to the ship and takes a rare opportunity to attack an enormous and deadly First Order battleship. They bring it down, but pay dearly by losing all of their bombers and a talented and dedicated team of pilots. General Organa greets Dameron with a slap and a demotion, telling him that “there were no leaders” on that mission. His victory came at too great a cost. But the punishment doesn’t seem to have an impact on him. Later on he shrugs off the demotion and appears unmoved.
Dameron, at least at the beginning of the film, is too wrapped up in himself to see how his actions are part of the rebellion’s larger mission. He goes for immediate gratification, while General Organa understands the power of strategy and playing for the end game.
Then, General Organa is "out of the office" while recovering from, let’s call it an unexpected space flight, and replaced by Vice Admiral Holdo. Dameron is doubtful of Holdo’s abilities and immediately asks to know her plans. He acts as if he should have special access to the command. She reacts strongly, and negatively, by putting the cocky pilot in his place and telling him to back off and wait for his orders. This results in misplaced efforts, secrets, and mutiny.
Sound familiar? Ok, you may not be fighting the First Order at work (even though it can feel that way), but you’ve probably dealt with some of the following:
Workers Who Think They Know Better Than Their Bosses
We’ve all had times when we incredulously ask “What?!” when given a new task. But, you don’t want to come across as arrogant. Once I asked someone who worked for me to help with an urgent project and she responded, “I can do it, but this is taking me away from my important work.” I had to calmly explain that this new project was important work and went into more detail about the backstory of how it came up and why we needed to do it. She followed through, but her response raised some red flags for me. She sincerely believed she was being a team-player by voicing her concern about not working on what she thought was most important. She unknowingly came off as selfish and dismissive of my request. Not the team player I could trust.
Dameron had similar thoughts at the beginning of the movie. He assumes his leaders are too narrow-minded to appreciate his vision. He literally turns off all communications so he doesn’t have to hear Organa’s orders.
Later on, Dameron secretly assumes authority, builds up his own coalition of colleagues, and leads a mutiny, with disastrous results, when vetting his ideas with his leaders could have saved lives.
Impulsive Workers Who Don't See How Their Actions Impact the Company's Long-Term Goals
This one's a doozy. It’s easy to justify doing something that you think will have a payoff even though it may not fit into your boss’ or company’s long-term plan. Yet, a good leader will know to hold back and cut losses and can see how small actions fit into the larger plan. Steve Jobs said that “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.” The person who famously decided to release “New Coke” went for the immediate result instead of considering how it would fit in with the values and mission of the company.
The key is finding the right balance between creativity and long-term thinking. The way to achieve that balance is with communication. It goes both ways, with leadership needing to instill the long-term vision while encouraging innovation. Employees need to feel comfortable asking questions and encouraged to offer their ideas, but respect lines of authority.
Dameron’s impulsiveness doesn’t fit in with the the long term plans for the rebellion. He might have taken down a huge battleship, but the rebellion force was decimated in the process.
Supervisors Who Let Employees Get Away With Things That Shouldn't be Tolerated
Princess Leia fans might be angry at me for this one, but I was disappointed with how she handled Dameron. Even though she gave him a demotion, her explanation of his poor decisions didn’t make it through to him. (I mean, many people died because of it!) She could have used different language to explain how this was catastrophic. Or, maybe said he was grounded from flying until further notice. If anyone else had ignored her orders, perhaps someone she didn’t like as much, would they have been treated the same way?
Consider if General Organa came down harder on Dameron and didn’t tolerate Dameron’s impulsive antics. Even though she gives him a demotion, he almost laughs it off. Beneath her anger she almost seems to wink at him like a mother exasperated with her mischievous but charming kid.
A lack of fairness from their bosses is a complaint I hear over and over from clients. It creates a toxic work environment and leads to job dissatisfaction and concerns about favoritism.
A New Boss Who Doesn't Try to Understand or Listen to the Staff
I once was part of a team that had the chance to meet with prospective new managers for our group. When asked “How would you describe your management style?” one candidate said, “I rule with an iron fist in a velvet glove.” She likely thought this response showed her strength and leadership, instead it terrified all of us and suggested that she would keep us all in place. There was no way we wanted to work for her.
In the Last Jedi, Holdo should have assumed the best of the crew and heard Dameron out instead of treating him with disdain. He did approach her immediately and ask for her plans but she silences him. Rather than cluing in the staff on what she is up to, she gives no glimpse into her strategy and demands them to blindly follow. He has no reason to think he can share his ideas with her.
A lack of trust, contempt, and poor communication are a lethal combination in any workplace, and it’s a two-way street. Moving past our own egos and trusting your colleagues and bosses almost always results in a better outcome.
In the end, Dameron finally learns his lesson. He orders troops to pull back from a battle where the immediate victory wouldn’t be worth the long-term consequences. He becomes a true leader. But, it was a painful, costly lesson.
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