As most of you all know, I can get carried away with a blog post and turn one post into a five-part series. I decided to dedicate this week’s blog posts to the numerous and varied lessons Darth Vader provides on both leadership and compliance. Of course, that meant I had to rewatch the original three Star Wars movies plus Rogue One but it was a sacrifice I was willing to make.
Today’s blog is inspired by the death scene of Darth Vader in the movie Star Wars VI, The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke defeats his father in combat. Bryan Young, writing in SyFy.com, said, “When films are at their best, they help you understand the world around you better, they help you understand other people with experiences different than yours, and they help you understand more about yourself and what you’re made of. More than any moment in the Star Wars saga, the one that did this most effectively, in my mind, was the scene in Star Wars: Return of the Jedi when Darth Vader is finally unmasked by his son. That’s what makes it the best scene in the saga, at least as far as I’m concerned.”
Michael Natale, writing in dorksideoftheforce.com, added that he felt the music of John William was at its best in this scene, writing “the true brilliance done by John Williams and all others involved with the music aspect of Star Wars here to capture this fantastic moment.” He went on to state, “With Anakin grasping for air and looking at Luke, we hear “the Imperial March” theme, which is played throughout the films when Darth Vader comes on the screen. It’s a dark and fierce theme, and it essentially tells the story in music of the fear that Vader is able to instill. But, in this scene, as Vader has finally turned good, we hear various “Imperial March” themes throughout. But these themes are unique because they have a brightness and beauty to them. The various bright themes being played here shows Darth Vader has been redeemed, and he is no longer a villain. Anakin Skywalker has returned. John Williams does a fantastic job in this powerful scene by displaying what is going on through music.”
It was certainly Darth Vader’s crucible moment in the original trilogy. Vader killed his master, the Emperor who had threatened his son, Luke Skywalker. He then saw his son for the first time without his mask on. In the Harvard Business Review (HBR) article Crucibles of Leadership by Warren Bennis and Robert J. Thomas, the authors posited that “a crucible is, by definition, a transformative experience through which an individual comes to a new or an altered sense of identity. It can often involve the experience of prejudice, as “it forces an individual to confront a distorted picture of him- or herself, and it often unleashes profound feelings of anger, bewilderment, and even withdrawal. For all its trauma, however, the experience of prejudice is for some a clarifying event. Through it, they gain a clearer vision of who they are, the role they play, and their place in the world.”
The key is how individuals deal with such or even any similar adversity. You can and indeed must learn from negative events. This is not simply learning from your mistakes but forces you into a deep self-reflection where you examine a wide set of core beliefs, including your own judgment. A successful leader will emerge from such a personal trauma stronger, more confident, with more purpose and indeed more committed to your values and work.
The authors related the story of Sidney Harman, former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Harman Kardon, now Harman International Industries, Incorporated, who was told of an emergency situation at the company’s Bolivar factory. Harman said it was “raw, ugly, and, in many ways, demeaning.” The problem was men on the night shift were supposed to get a coffee break at 10 pm. When the buzzer that announced the workers’ break went on the fritz, management arbitrarily decided to postpone the break. However, “one worker, “an old black man with an almost biblical name, Noah B. Cross,” had “an epiphany,” as Harman describes it. “He said, literally, to his fellow workers, ‘I don’t work for no buzzer. The buzzer works for me. It’s my job to tell me when it’s ten o’clock. I got me a watch. I’m not waiting another ten minutes. I’m going on my coffee break.’ And all 12 guys took their coffee break, and, of course, all hell broke loose.””
It was this simple action, a worker’s humanity in refusing “to be cowed by management’s senseless rule—was, in turn, a revelation to Harman: “The technology is there to serve the men, not the reverse,” he remembers realizing. Harman had, unexpectedly, become a pioneer of participative management, a movement that continues to influence the shape of workplaces around the world. The concept wasn’t a grand idea conceived in the CEO’s office and imposed on the plant, Harman says. It grew organically out of his going down to Bolivar to, in his words, “put out this fire.” Harman’s transformation was, above all, a creative one. He had connected two seemingly unrelated ideas and created a radically different approach to management that recognized both the economic and humane benefits of a more collegial workplace.”
The authors set out four essential skills to learn from adversity.
- Engage others in shared meaning. This allowed Harman to mobilize employees “around a radical new management approach” in the midst of a crisis.
- A distinctive, compelling voice. Sometimes words alone can make a difference.
- Integrity. Stand your ground and remain true to your values.
- Adaptive capacity. The authors believe this is the most critical and is “in essence, applied creativity—an almost magical ability to transcend adversity, with all its attendant stresses, and to emerge stronger than before. It’s composed of two primary qualities: the ability to grasp context, and hardiness.” This skill requires you to “grasp the context” by weighing many factors between multiple stakeholders. It also includes “hardiness” which mandates perseverance and toughness need to remain hopeful even in the face of multiple setbacks or even disasters.
While your experience does not have to be traumatic, it can be more benign. The authors conclude, “Fortunately, not all crucible experiences are traumatic. In fact, they can involve a positive, if deeply challenging, experience such as having a demanding boss or mentor.”
Check out the death scene of Darth Vader on YouTube by clicking here.
Join me tomorrow when I conclude my Darth Vader themed week by considering Darth Vader as the Focused Leader.