By Betty Rhoades, Executive Director, HillVets Foundation
May 4th is Star Wars Day (“May the fourth be with you” – get it?), so it’s a good day to remind folks that leadership lessons aren’t limited to just real-life people and organizations. If we choose to, we can learn all kinds of things from the fictional characters we admire – and even the ones we don’t.
In my opinion, the greatest leader in Star Wars canon is General Princess Leia Skywalker Organa Solo – and yes, ALL her titles and names are important. Here’s why:
* She was fearless AND empathetic – Leaders are always asked to accept and manage a certain amount of risk. Leia understood this, and she never hesitated to grab a blaster or pilot a speeder through the forests of Endor. But to be effective, leaders can’t be blowing things up (literally or figuratively) 100% of the time – they also have to relate to the people around them, to make those risks more palatable. Leia understood the pain of loss, whether it was her home planet or her son, and she was able to use that to empathize with the people she led. That empathy engendered loyalty and trust among her team, which of course made them more willing to follow her into proverbial battle.
*She was a master communicator, whether she was inspiring her team or sassing her adversaries – Leaders need to be able to convey a variety of messages, both at the individual and team levels. Leia could move seamlessly from strategic discussions to inspirational speeches to one-on-one instruction and guidance. She even communicated deftly with her enemies, distracting and misleading them. No matter the circumstances, Leia was able to craft clear, compelling messages – a skill that effective leaders must master, even if they’d just as soon kiss a Wookiee.
* She knew how to delegate and how to motivate – As much as I’d like to believe that Leia could have saved the galaxy all by herself, she was much more self-aware. She often delegated tasks and gave others their chances to shine. Delegation is as much about talent development as it is self-preservation, and Leia was also able to adjust her approach to bring out the best in a variety of colleagues. For instance, Leia’s interactions with her brother Luke focus on tactfully acknowledging his emotions and gracefully pointing the way. In contrast, when she engages with Han Solo, Leia often chooses direct, borderline insulting language – but hey, I guess it worked out okay for her and her favorite stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking Nerf-herder (okay, maybe her language in that case was more than borderline insulting).
* She had rock solid belief in her team, her mission, and her badass self – No matter the odds or the plot twists, there was never any question that Leia was dedicated to the greater good. She was laser-focused on her mission, and she exuded confidence that inspired her team, even when the going got tough. Leia was an absolute Jedi master at straddling the line between assurance and arrogance, which then gave the other rebels the confidence that they, too, could make the galaxy a better, safer, more just place. It may seem simple, but this kind of conviction is hard to come by – and she demonstrated it even at the darkest of times.
Pretty impressive, huh? Oh, and Leia did ALL of that while people underestimated her (at best) or actively degraded her because she was a woman. And she did SOME of that while dressed in a supremely uncomfortable gold bikini (don’t even get me started).
Now…will someone get this big walking carpet out of her way?
Who are your favorite fictional leaders?