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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.

After assisting hundreds of people to reach and exceed their goals, I see patterns that arise. What is it that “successful” people do better than others? Several actions stand out – they quickly find perspective in any situation and they exercise their power of choice much more often than others do. Which energetic balloon do I want to reflect me most of the time? Do I believe that I can have all the energy I ever need, at this moment? Time is finite, energy is not.

Of the many thousands of daily thoughts that we have, our thoughts fall into two buckets – those that serve us and those that do not. I believe that our thoughts lead to our feelings and emotions, which then lead to our behaviors. So if we want to change our behaviors, it all starts with a thought. Being mindful of which thoughts I am serving up to myself is a great way to start the process. That involves choice!

More Choices = More Energy = More Personal and Professional Power

Will I allow this thought to hang around in my mind? Why am I thinking so much about this topic? What other thoughts could I choose?

For those thoughts that take us into avoidance, stress, conflict, struggle, worry, blame, victim, frustration, fear, resentment…i.e. thoughts that don’t serve us and make us weaker, consider asking the following questions to shift into powerful energy that serves and propels you to reach your goals:

1). How long do I want to be here?

We can hang on to resentment for a long time. We can overextend our own pity party beyond its useful life. Without being aware that we are doing it, we can find ourselves consumed with worry that begets more worry.   By asking ourselves this powerful question, we make a choice to limit the de-energizing impact of these detrimental thoughts.   What if we never, ever had another “bad day”? What if there were only “bad moments” because we chose to limit their duration? It is entirely up to us.

2). Would I rather be right or happy?

At first, it is an odd question to ask oneself. When we insist that certain situations are objective when in reality, they are subjective, we create stress for ourselves and those around us. Some battles are worth fighting and some are not. Exercising our choice on which battles to fight can keep us from leaking air from our energetic balloon. It preserves our energy for the most meaningful and beneficial activities.

3). What choices do I have that I might be missing?

When we are stressed, we become myopic. We can’t see the many choices and alternatives that are available to us. While this question can be tough to answer ourselves, it is a great one to ask someone who knows us well. What am I missing that is obvious to you? Where have I created limitations for myself that I can’t see beyond? Our energy increases when perspective expands and we act on any of the myriad of choices that are now apparent.

4). What might the ideal look like for my situation?

The corporate world is full of problems. We get so caught up in problems and attempting to solve them that we lose the big picture. We get accustomed to playing “small ball”, expecting problems to continue to arise, which they do. When we conceive of the ideal solution, we access a different part of our brain that allows us to create solutions, which fix problems once and for all. Our energy increases when we believe there is an answer – once and for all.

5). What am I telling myself?

“I always do this. I will never change. This always happens to me. It is just my luck. I don’t think I can do it. It’s just the way that it is.” Words have power in our lives and minds. Continuing to repeat these statements to ourselves is a great way to keep getting what we have always gotten – low energy and inability to reach our goals. When we choose to change our self-talk to allow ourselves to succeed, that is indeed what happens.   Energy rises with the words of possibility, opportunity and promise that we give ourselves.

Business professionals network for many reasons. While some people want to sell something, others want to meet people that could favorably influence their career. Others have relocated and want to establish themselves in a new community.   Effective networking is not for the faint of heart, but it doesn’t have to be sheer pain either. As an executive coach, I challenge clients to reframe their reality. Reframing how we think about networking can help us do it more effectively and successfully.  Try these 6 ways to increase your networking efficacy.

Have realistic expectations

You won’t know everyone in the room by the end of the night, so don’t expect to. Do you want to measure my success by the size of your stack of business cards by the end of the event? That could be indicative of too many superficial conversations.   A few quality conversations constitute success. I was recently contacted by someone I had met once at an event almost a year ago. What did they remember about me that caused them to call? How did I show up that evening that made our interaction memorable? As I think back to it, we found that we had a number of things in common and we made a point to get to know one another.

Take the focus off yourself

Almost everyone likes to talk about themselves. If you are nervous about meeting others or sharing about yourself, try going on the offensive. “Tell me about you!” “I would love to hear more…” “I like hearing about…..” When our focus is not on ourselves, we don’t have any pressure.   The other person we are having the conversation with feels honored and respected that we listened well. They will remember us as one of the few people at the event that cared to know them.

Practice curiosity

People are incredibly interesting. Each person has stories and enjoys sharing them when they are comfortable doing so. Asking open ended questions about the topics they are disclosing is a great way to get a conversation going. Let’s say they just shared about an amazing vacation they just completed. While I love vacations, I’m sure their vacation was unique in some way which prompts questions: how was that experience for you? What was the best part for you? What would you do differently next time? What are 2-3 other places on your vacation bucket list? What do you find interesting about those locations?

Be yourself

I have my networking heroes – those people that “can work a crowd” or simply can engage others with ease. How do they do that? For starters, they are comfortable in their own skin. They aren’t pretending to be anyone else but themselves. We can do the same thing for ourselves. Trying to be someone we are not can create an imposter syndrome. Authenticity, confidence, and vulnerability are people magnets. They come from the integrity of knowing who we are, what we stand for, what is real about us (including our faults), in addition to knowing who we are not.

Keep easy questions handy

“What brings you to this event?” “How’s your experience of networking going this evening?” “Tell me about the most interesting person you met this evening….perhaps I should meet them.” “What’s the best networking event you have gone to this year?” “What’s your most effective networking question?”

We can talk with anyone about anything if our questions express sincere interest and we feel comfortable about asking them.

Take a friend with you

Networking can bring out memories of junior high dances where the safest spot was against the wall with my buddies. Having a friendly face at the networking event can be reassuring. If you can resist the temptation to hang out only with your friend vs. just knowing they are there doing what you are doing, it can increase your resolve to be effective at the event. You can always meet with your friend later to talk about what you both accomplished. It’s not much different from having an accountability partner as you work at goal achievement.

You next job will likely result from someone you know who knows someone else. Effective networking is an essential skill that doesn’t need to come with pain and discomfort. Practicing it and gaining comfort with it is one of the best activities you can do for your career growth.

His 360-degree feedback results were full of critique. They indicated that he delegated poorly, had to be involved in everything, and was highly impatient with others. That one of his direct reports noted he was “overbearing in discussions and a poor listener” sent Marcos over the edge when we discussed his results. Not only had he been unaware of the intensity behind the comments, he hung his head and admitted that for this seemingly high achiever, these observations were all too familiar in his career.

What a deceptive concept control can be. We believe we have much more of it than we actually do. An expert in child development notes that parents believe they have control over their children long after it has faded. Control issues apply to most aspects of our careers and experiences in leadership as well. Controlling behaviors include manipulation, coercion, being domineering, and micro-managing. Why are people called “control freaks” instead of “control ninjas”? I wouldn’t sign up to be controlled.

Shirzad Chamine’s Saboteurs assessment (Click Here)

lists Controller as an “Anxiety-based need to take charge and control situations and people’s actions to one’s own will. High anxiety and impatience when that is not possible.” I’ve created that kind of stress and sabotaged myself (and others) in the process. If I set my expectation that I will win the raffle, buy many tickets to increase my control over the outcome and then get disappointed that I didn’t win, who did that to me? I think it was me. Our belief system can lead us to think that if we don’t “control” an outcome, someone else will. Many control freaks would agree.

Many corporate leadership programs are now featuring the concept of VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous). After a number of challenging campaigns, military leadership was on to something with this acronym. One could say that VUCA is the opposite of control and if we are honest with ourselves, it applies to our careers and professional lives. If there is truly less in our control than we think, why not give up, toss up on our hands and say “whatever”?

The great news, despite our illusory desire to control outcomes, is that we always have the power of choice that we can exercise.  Choice allows us to respond vs. react. Choice creates options when we are faced with VUCA conditions.

The Serenity Prayer* reminds me that I have choices. In fact, letting go can be one of the most powerful choices I can ever make. I don’t need to, nor can I control something that I let go of. It frees me to get out of a control paradigm to move into an impactful choice paradigm. By accepting what comes at me as simply an experience, I can exercise choice constantly, consciously raising my energy

When you are tempted to control vs. choose, try these questions:

Choice is free, practical, available for daily use and it produces results.  I am comforted by the fact that I always have more choices than I can see at any one moment.  Decrease your control freak stress and increase your calm and throughput by constantly exercising choice. It will make a positive and powerful difference.

*God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

“That’s exactly it!” exclaimed my executive coaching client. “I have too many apps running in my mind and they are going all the time. No wonder I feel constantly tapped out.” I was reminded of a recent experience where my smartphone battery was draining inordinately fast. The support desk answer should not have surprised me – shut down some apps and tell others to stop trolling for updates.

Aren’t our minds doing the same thing? We try to balance so many important things, staying current on the latest updates on news and social media, trying to be everything to everyone, always “on”. It’s no wonder our physiological batteries are draining at such a rapid rate AND that they don’t seem to hold the charge that they once did. How can we reverse this trend? How can we get back to having a full charge and knowing how and when to keep it full? It requires focus and intention.

Try these five ways to retain the charge:

Identify and shut down mental malware

My daughter recently had her computer overtaken by malware. It restricted her access to information, diverting only to sites that she didn’t want to go to. The same happens to us when we allow it to. We replay events from the past that don’t get us anywhere. We allow thoughts of resentment and lack of forgiveness to persist. These thoughts not only hold space and drain the battery, but do so at an accelerated rate.   It’s time to let these things go….once and for all. If we let them go and they keep coming back, we likely need to take action to reconcile, engage in dialogue, or take an alternative active step to “put them to bed” to clean our mind’s hard drive, allowing space for those mental apps that propel us forward.

Focus on what leads you to the best you

It is said that “what you focus on expands for you”. My experience leads me to believe this is true. If we buy a new black sports car, we suddenly notice all the other apparently new black sports cars that were there all the time. When I let my mental apps power up on topics that lead to frustration, avoidance, blame, victim mentality, anger, worry, and fear, I drain the battery.   Why choose to focus on these things instead of those that give and promote energy, life, health, power, opportunity, and success? It’s always been a choice – yes, we can choose which apps we are running.   When our batteries are low, we just doubt that we have the choice.

Turn it off

My clients tell me that they simply are not allowed to “turn it off” in the evenings, weekends and vacations. By “it”, they mean their work and connectivity to it. When our batteries are full, we don’t come to that conclusion. We realize that we ALWAYS have a choice about anything in life including the power that work has over our lives. The same applies to our non-work mental apps. Resiliency is needed for the long haul. Turning our mental apps off for pause, reflection, and rest is not only healthy and allows the batteries to charge, but we are substantially more effective when we are back “on”.

Be realistic

I see this in my clients as I see it in myself. Our fascination with superheroes leads us to believe that we have superpowers to balance more and more in life. The latest new techniques and approaches and “powering through” tease us to believe that we can keep all those mental apps open, serving them as if they were the only app open. It’s simply not true. Studies in multi-tasking reveal that we are less productive when we do it. A realistic approach is to shut down the apps and focus on the vital few that serve us and others.

Identify your power apps

We know that certain activities/apps refuel us faster than others, just like those that quickly drain us. Be mindful of your mental apps that are especially powerful. Let those that serve you do so in the most powerful ways – gratitude, best intentions for others, mindfulness, nonjudgment, and passion can all be power mental apps to recharge us. “No thought can exist in my mind without my consent” is part of my daily self-talk. It defuses and shuts down the negative apps and mental malware that rapidly drain my battery.

Just as you can adjust your handheld settings to reduce battery drainage from your apps while shutting down apps running in the background, you can do the same thing with your mind. Which mental apps would you benefit from shutting down, so you can maximize your productivity and potential?

Evan Roth is a Certified Executive Coach and Energy Leadership Index Master Practitioner. He enjoys helping people thrive in the corporate world.

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