Leadership Lessons from the Galactic Empire

Even a cursory examination of Palpatine's tenure as Emperor reveals sloppy leadership and a lack of strategic thinking. Imagine what a few outside consultants in organizational transformation could have offered the Galactic Empire: growth, stability and order.

When Alex Knapp of Forbes watches Star Wars, he sees a huge, promising organization that was destroyed by poor leadership. Among other mistakes, Darth Vader and the Emperor brutally punished mistakes, thus destabilizing the work of middle managers. Do you remember when Vader Force-choked Admiral Ozzel for bringing the fleet out of lightspeed too close to Hoth? By doing so, Knapp argues, Vader only reinforced failure:

This swift, decisive punishment of failure is a huge error of management. First of all, mistakes are inevitable – especially in times where quick decisions are needed to be made on incomplete information. Rather than simply kill Admiral Ozzel, Vader should have attempted to direct him to a course of action that corrected his error. Instead, he threw the Imperial Fleet into organizational disarray as countless numbers of officers were suddenly thrust into new roles and responsibilities without the opportunity to learn them. This organizational chaos was undoubtedly key to the Rebels ability to escape in mass numbers, even as they flew perilously close to the Imperial Fleet.

Even beyond this one mistake, by adopting a management style of “failure leads to Force choking,” Vader developed an organizational culture that was destined to be weak. People would be afraid to offer feedback or suggestions, choosing instead to follow orders to the letter. This ensures that decisions are made at a very high level, and anyone under those levels will lack initiative or the ability to act on their local knowledge. What’s more, by punishing failure so harshly, the Empire provides an incentive for people within the organization to actually lead their superiors to failure. After all, the quickest way to promotion in the Empire is for your boss to make a mistake, so it’s in your own best interests to ensure that he does.

Key Takeaway: It’s essential to remember that failure is the engine of success. Mistakes are inevitable, but the key to making them is learning from them. It’s also vital to ensure that organizations are flexible, capable of quickly adapting to changing conditions and allowing for initiative and quick action at all levels, even if that leads to some mistakes.


Link -via @Maetenloch | Image: Lucas Film

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The Russians lost so much to Germany in WW2 for the same reasons. There's a story (Osfront, Dan Carlin) where a commander looked at a map and ordered the troops to cross the river. looked fine. Unfortunately the river was flooded at the time and they had no boats. The commander ordered his troops in to the river at gunpoint for fear of reprisal from command. After all of his troops were drowned the commander was a tad dumbfounded...
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These conclusions are spurious and without merit. By expediting Ozzel's early retirement (known as a "Black Parachute"), Lord Vader created a new opening that allowed his middle management to advance. Being stuck in one position causes inertia and low productivity. A dynamic, ever-changing management hierarchy fosters innovation and maximum utilization of individual inputs. Also, Lord Vader shares his expectations with his staff clearly and consistently, and then follows through with immediate consequencing. This, coupled with an occasional "jeans day" (please note that jeans must be full-length, clean, and pressed, otherwise risk a force-choke), this achieves a vibrant and successful paradigm.
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