I was having dinner a few weeks ago with a friend of mine and we started sharing career notes. She had just gotten a promotion at work where she inherited other business functions in addition to the one she currently owns. While she was fairly comfortable with her area of the business, she was trying to think of ways to manage the other areas. One of the major tenets of leadership is learning how to cope with rapid change while evolving. Some of us even wake up one day and stumble into it like two favorite characters from an iconic movie franchise.
I now will teleport you for a valuable lesson in leadership utilizing two of the greatest Sci-Fi Franchises…In The Force Awakens, the seventh installment of the Star Wars film franchise, we encounter a new threat, 30 years post the defeat of the Galactic Empire brought on by the First Order. We meet Finn, a defector who crash lands on a desert planet and meets Rey, a tough scavenger whose droid contains a top secret map containing crucial intelligence for the Resistance. They team up with Hans Solo to make sure this information gets delivered. Finn and Rey leave their homes and begin journeys of self-transformation and discover new identities allies and abilities.
Leadership progression takes time. It maybe your first mission as captain or a new assignment with a new fleet. The first step is trusting your team as they look for you to navigate them through the bureaucracy and meteor showers that we encounter in organizations. While your leadership style will definitely depend on the environment, we all have a temperament and personality that helps us cope with the new tasks and requests that come our way. Finn and Rey are embarking on a new mission that test their resolve and making decisions under pressure. Fortunately they have support from a mentoring figure like Hans Solo who has experience in making split second decisions. As an homage to two of the greatest sci-fi franchises, Here are six leadership styles that have been observed in the galaxy:
1. Captain Kirk/Han Solo: Natural Born Leader
Kirk and Hans’ leadership style is one that is widely popular and is viewed as the natural born leader. Their grace under pressure is usually described as incredibly smart and charismatic. They have a magnetic personality that is excellent at encouraging teams to buy into the organization’s goals while still being able to help teams pivot in a different direction if necessary. They improvise when needed.
As a new leader it’s important to leverage your passions to promote your team and give them ownership of their respective tasks. This can be challenging for those who may want to be more hands on with the day to day. Also be cautious when making rapid decisions as they have consequences that impact you and the team long term.
2. Spock/Princess Leia — Logical and Pragmatic Leader
This leadership style is very matter of fact and more hands on. These leaders don’t teach but lead and show by example. They love data and demand initiatives and proposals are presented with the facts and figures buttoned up.
The benefits of this leadership is open and honest communication with a well thought out process to follow. Your team will have a level of respect for your willingness to do anything you ask of the team itself. Most finance and data professionals may find themselves in this category. While you may lead by logic versus gut instinct, the organization needs for you to be the steady compass during high pressured situations. Having a clear defined road map for the team to execute on gets them closer to be a well oiled machine.
3. Leonard McCoy/Yoda — The Ambassador or Teacher
Leonard “Bones” McCoy was the first medical officer and good friend to Kirk and Spock. While he didn’t have the charisma of Kirk or solemnity of Spock he was a good sounding board to both and brought comic relief in tense situations.
Coaching is a leadership attribute that is often overlooked in today’s hectic business climate. When running from crisis to crisis people just like to be given direction and told what to do. Being empathetic is a muscle that all leaders should look to strengthen as well as being willing to give of their own time for the betterment of the individual or the team. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty to achieve goals and walk employees through challenges. Yoda allowed the young Jedi to learn from what they experienced and relay those lessons as a result.
Managers looking to leverage this style have to remember this style lends itself to a high trust culture that may take a little more time and effort, upfront to build. An environment where your team embraces learning, accepts and shares mistakes for the good of all can really bolster the efficacy of a team. The benefit of this style is that it brings all parties together to create consensus and harmony which is key in intergalactic relations. Your team and stakeholders will appreciate (or tolerate) your sharp sense of humor to defuse stressful situations.
4. Montgomery Scott/R2D2 — Subject Matter Expert
Subject matter experts (SMEs) are an integral part of the team if not the backbone. They prefer to be in the background versus center stage or at the helm. They tend to lead as part of the team and only elevates their leadership game when the situation calls. Their style is “Do as I Do” and are truly the pinch hitters when all is breaking loose. Leaders that are SMEs tend to be effective when leading their counterparts who share their expertise. It allows goals for the overall organization to be met. Scotty’s knowledge and skill with teleportation allowed Kirk and Spock to push the boundaries and break the rules to be the heroes of the story. Scotty was able to beam them up when they were stuck on a planet facing imminent danger. R2D2 was able to talk to the systems to get Hans and crew out of tight spots including a garbage disposal!
5. Jean Luc Picard/Obi-Wan Kenobi — Well Balanced Leader
Well balanced leaders can lead by logic or instinct. They are level headed, logical but also empathetic. Captain Picard may not have had the swagger of Kirk but his Spock like presence commanded the respect of everyone in his star fleet. Obi Wan led by example through tapping into his own experiences and challenges.
Like Captain Picard this leadership style garners respect and admiration in the workplace. You lead by example, while expecting everyone to pull their weight. This empowers the team and inspires them to do and give more without giving the motivational speeches. There is a balance of expecting protocol and process to be followed while being amenable to change and innovation if the situation or condition requires it.
6. Khan Noonien Singh/Darth Vader — Overly Ambitious Dictator
Every story needs an antagonist to drive the plot and provide a cautionary tale. Some leaders can be hyper-focused, self described geniuses driven by ambition. They can be incredibly smart but also overcome with emotion, rage and unwavering drive.
There are powerful traits to be leveraged here but remember to step back for that 20K ft view. These leaders can also achieve greater success being more flexible and accepting of outside opinions or strategies. Maintaining a “Do what I say or there will be consequences” approach or cultivating a culture of fear might yield immediate results in the short term but it never wins in the end.
As you start your first mission or new mission as captain, remember that you can have a range of leadership styles and neither is inherently good or evil. Given the environment they can be enormously productive and beneficial for those involved. The key it is to be fluid. A business crisis or time crunch may call for a “First Order” mode of hierarchical, command and control style of closed leadership to get the job done. This is where the “Scotty’s” of the world can shine or the motivation of a “Kirk” is needed. If you’re able to be more proactive and get ahead of a foreseen challenge, then “Resistance” mode may serve you well. General Organa fully empowers her resistance followers and works together with them as a team embracing a more agile style of open leadership.
What I’ve come to learn is that while most of us may not take on the traditional role of leadership in a corporate sense, we all display leadership in many facets of our daily lives. Whatever style you use to approach the situation, here are six tips to progressing as a leader:
- Act like a leader — Take action and glean insights on the results of those efforts. Share everything seen and heard with teammates.
- Regulate yourself — EQ is twice as important as technical skills and IQ in driving performance and achieving success. Control emotional outbursts and redirect them in more productive ways
- Become self aware — Ask for feedback from colleagues. Effective team performance begins with how the leader sees the situation.
- Be persuasive — Establish credibility through expertise and relationships. Reinforce your position with numerical data and stories. Connect emotionally with your audience.
- Coach the team you have, not the team you want. Most of us will not have the luxury of inheriting our “dream team”. We can encourage and bring out the best traits of our team members and find that in itself rewarding.
- Surround yourself with people that fill your gaps. You want a team that complements you. Lack of diversity on a team can create an echo chamber that keeps you from being aware of crucial issues impacting your business.
I would be happy to hear from you on what leadership styles have worked for you or how you’ve tackled leadership challenges in the past.