Watching Star Wars when they originally came out was a significant moment in my life. I was rather young, and very impressionable. I was about five at the time. Over time, I have grown to see the movie in different ways, but still love them equally now as I did when I first saw them. After entering adulthood and with more maturity and wisdom, the philosophy of the Jedi knight order is deeper and more complex than I realized. One of the most important Jedi’s in the Star Wars universe is Obi-Wan Kenobi. Kenobi was instrumental in keeping the Jedi order intact after the fall of the galactic republic and help to lay the foundation for a new order that would remain once the republic was restored in the period after the final movie. Further examination of Kenobi reveals a quality of leadership that can be beneficial for anyone in a leadership position, or with the aspirations to become a leader in their own right.
1. Leaders Need to Sacrifice Themselves for their People
Leaders who only focus on their own self-interests may find themselves with better pay or more perks, but will otherwise be ineffective as a high quality leader. Being a leader comprises garnering the respect of those whom they are leading. Without this respect, when a leader asks for help to achieve an organizational goal, the staff they are leading will not necessarily work hard to achieve those goals. The life of a Jedi knight was characterized by individuals giving up freedom and individuality. In its place was a life devoted to the common good of the order and the light side of the force. In a sense, they are very similar to monks who may give up personal possessions and spend their lives dedicated to spirituality. Kenobi gave up personal possessions to be a Jedi knight, and as the republic crumbled, he had to sacrifice his self-interests for the common good. In a modern business world, this leadership style should be practiced. A particular leader should not ask staff to work extra hard, when they are not willing to do so. If there is extra work required, or a project deadline looms, these individuals need to be setting the example and come in early, work late, or on weekends to achieve the organizational goal. Instead of receiving exceptions or perks, leaders who are among their people will be seen as one of them, not simply someone dictating orders or setting goals. In these situations, the staff will resent these leaders and simply may not drive forward to the goals that have been set. If the leader can foster an identification with their employees, they can identify with them, and bring about a respect since they are seen as “one of them”. Otherwise, the employees may be productive in spite of the leader or manager, not because of them.
2. Be a Mentor
The basic premise of the Jedi knight order is a master/apprentice relationship. Each Jedi knight is expected to have an apprentice to which they will share their knowledge and experience. They will use their wisdom to reinforce the principles and all things Jedi. The Star Wars movies entail the rise and fall of the galactic empire, characteristic of Anakin Skywalker’s fall into the dark side and subsequent redemption to the light. He begins as a young child with unimaginable potential, but within this potential is behavioral patterns that can lead to the dark side, characterized by anger, fear, and selfishness. Kenobi was tasked the responsibility to instruct and apprentice Anakin in the hopes that he will turn into a true Jedi knight. In spite of his best efforts, Anakin would eventually turn to the dark side and transform himself into Darth Vader. It may not always work out as planned, but a leader would be advised to mentor others, and to transfer knowledge and experience whenever possible. This would aid in succession planning and put the organization in a good position when people decide to retire or leave. Failure to mentor others may make a leader indispensable, and as a result, this individual will not be promotable and may stagnate in their current position. In addition, the organization will suffer as a result of insufficient internal leaders that can be utilized in periods of rapid growth or in times of personnel turnover.
3. Stand for Ethical Principles
Leaders will face ethical dilemmas and temptations. The higher someone rises in an organization, and when they accumulate more and more influence, they will be targets. For example, if someone is leading an accounting office for an organization, other managers and executives may decide to be extra friendly. Quite possibly, they think that by being friends with this individual they may gain a favorable status. A different example would be a company wanting to sell their product, and selectively target an influential individual and pass along perks or gifts in order to gain favor. There will be people like in most companies and organizations, and leaders will need to practice ethical behavior. They need to stand for what is right and for the correct principles. Every leader needs to ask if what they decide to do would be featured on the news in a negative light, they should immediately reconsider their actions. Proper ethical behavior should be practiced at all levels in an organization, but is most important in the executive levels. These people have the most power in any organization and can bring it down if they behave unethically (Enron would be a prime example). Obi-Wan Kenobi had influence and power in the days leading up for the fall of the republic. The importance of proper ethical practice was part of his training and responsibility. He could have turned to the dark side and use his heightened powers for his personal gain. Kenobi, in keeping with ethical standards, put the good of the republic ahead of personal ambition. In many cases in life, people are often tempted to use their power or influence to benefit themselves.
4. Help Those in Need
Part of the mandate of the Jedi knight order is to help those in need. Within the scope of an organization, good leadership will focus their efforts on helping those on their teams. If they have family issues, give them some time to work things out. If they are not happy at work, see what can be done to get them engaged and motivated. Obviously in some cases individuals will need to be let go, but not after a leader should have invested time and effort to work with these individuals. Looking at the example set by Obi-Wan Kenobi, he dedicated his life helping others. If his mission was to be part of peace envoy, he willingly accepted his role. Within the scope of the Star Wars movies, he took it upon himself to help Luke Skywalker when he was on the run from Darth Vader. In the end, he willingly sacrificed his life so that Luke could escape, and hopefully be able to later defeat the empire. In a business setting a leader should focus their efforts on the top producers to keep them working at peak levels. However, they should spend some time to ensure that individuals are not left behind or ignored for potential growth projects. If many workers are ignored or left behind, that cannot be a benefit to the organization as a whole. However, when there is determination and motivation to be better, a good leader will facilitate these individuals in their growth. It is of great benefit to any organization that many of its employees are skilled and growing professionally. When a leader is seen helping out people, it will generate good will towards that individual. When this individual sets forth a mission or goal, the employee work force would more than likely be dedicated and motivated to achieve it.
Star Wars is obviously a movie and the characters possess supernatural skills and abilities that are not based in any reality. There is a deeper philosophy at play in the roles and mindset of a Jedi knight such as Obi-Wan Kenobi. Not all of them were good, and in some cases became scourges of the Star Wars universe. But as all good versus evil movies, the forces of good finally defeat evil in a large, climatic batter. It contains sacrifice and redemption. In the business world, following the wisdom of the Obi-Wan Kenobi character would be a significantly beneficial element to any organization and will garner respect for the individual practicing it. Just be careful and not bring your light-saber into work because you may get into some trouble, but using the force to make things float around the office will be acceptable in all instances.