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5 Leadership Lessons from Master Yoda

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

I have always loved Star Wars. When I first saw the original trilogy, I was completely consumed – good against evil, normal person who does heroic things, new images, concepts and characters, and the tension between the journeys of the protagonist vs. the antagonist.

While I initially put myself in the place of Luke Skywalker and can still identify with him, the character that now stands out the most for me is Master Yoda. I believe he teaches us leadership lessons that can be make us more effective as leaders.

He shared both challenge and wisdom and only when the student was ready

Yoda knew that there is always more to any story. Always something beneath the surface. But he only went as far and fast as the Padawans allowed him to. He offered the next level of understanding only when they were ready.

“[Luke:] I can’t believe it. [Yoda:] That is why you fail.”

As leaders, it is tempting to presume that others process at the speed and in the manner that we do. Time constraints can cause us to move to task completion vs. capturing the learnings that are there for us every day. How do we know when our teams are ready for the next level of responsibility or performance? How do we confirm understanding? How do we issue challenge without a dose of discouragement? Yoda had an incredible ability to meet the student where they were at without compromising his firm belief in their potential.

He used power only when he needed to

I chose not to show Yoda with his light saber on this blog post. Yoda respected when to use The Force and only under dire circumstances did he use his light saber.

“Powerful you have become, the Dark Side I sense in you.”

When does the use of our leadership power or our position authority lead us to The Force (equipping, inspiring, championing, challenging) vs. the Dark Side (coercion, manipulation, violation, dehumanization).   Situational leadership instructs us to be mindful of the times to direct, to coach, to support and to delegate.   Discernment is power and never forces.

He stayed true to The Force

While Yoda aligned with The Force, had a keen sense of the Dark Side. We all have that capacity. Yoda wasn’t about Yoda. He knew that The Force was bigger than himself and submitted to it.   He knew he could not control it, but could access it as it was much larger than him. Was that Yoda or The Force that was doing those amazing things? It doesn’t really matter – he stayed true to The Force.

To what are we staying true on the leadership journey?   Bill George, in his leadership book, True North, lists purpose, values, relationships, self-discipline and heart as components of authentic leadership. We are most effective as leaders when are in our authentic selves, staying true. Our Dark Side leadership can emerge when are deviate from the true and real.

He loved questions

Perhaps the Yoda character was, in part, inspired by the Socratic method of learning. By asking questions, Yoda honored the intelligence of the protégé. He didn’t presume because he could not truly know. He knew that the power of curiosity trumps the power of judgment. He knew that when the protégé found their answer, it would be better than any answer he could have given them. He knew that questions stimulated the part of the mind that was unknowingly blocked by the proteges.

Many executives lead with answers. To ask a question might mean that I don’t know something. To ask a question will prolong the process of getting the answer that I believe I already have. To ask a question opens us up to uncertainty. What if the answer is not binary? What if there are many options and we have trouble making decisions? Questions lead to both answers and the truth.

He went deep into the soul

An encounter with Yoda was transformative. He looked below the surface. He believed more in the individual than they did themselves. He knew what was MOST important.

“You must unlearn what you have learned.”

Aren’t the leaders that we respect and admire the most, those who truly understood us well? Challenged and confronted us? Examined our motivations, heart and character? By not going deep, we sell leadership effectiveness short. Great leaders go deep, know their “why”, become self-aware, examine the nasties that hide in their darkness and emerge transformed by facing the fact that Darth Vader is really their father.

I invite you to “Feel The Force” – that is your authentic leadership style that keeps Yoda’s lessons in mind as you fulfill your responsibilities of moving your business far beyond anyone’s expectations.

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