Yoda has the appearance of a wise old sage, an elder with deep insight and full of wisdom. In the Star Wars universe, perhaps the single most important hero in the saga is Yoda, a Jedi master of very advanced age and immense wisdom. After the fall of the republic, Yoda goes into hiding, waiting for his chance to strike back at the all-powerful empire that is spreading darkness across the galaxy. Yoda’s wisdom and experience was helpful in the training of a young and inexperienced Luke Skywalker, who later was not only able to convince his father, Darth Vader, to come back to the light, but also was able to withstand the temptations of the emperor. Together, he and Vader defeat the emperor, thus bringing down the emperor in a final moment of destruction. Although a movie and Yoda was scripted to be wise and insightful, he brings about many lessons that can be used in any business of office setting for those who choose to listen to him. Whether or not someone likes Star Wars, anyone who wishes, can learn from Master Yoda if they so choose. If so, their skills and leadership abilities will be enhanced.
1. Seek Wisdom and Share that Knowledge
Yoda is said to be approximately 900 years old by the time of his death in the Empire Strikes Back. For us humans, we will not nearly have that length of time to gain that level of perspective, wisdom, and experience. However, that does not mean we should ignore personal growth. As a master Jedi, Yoda was responsible for bringing along apprentices for many years, sharing knowledge and experience. At the fall of the republic, Yoda was actually still teaching padawans (children with force potential, yet not at apprenticing age or skill), thus guiding them in their first steps towards using and applying the force as Jedi’s. Yoda was not one to sit in the background and was active in sharing his knowledge and experience. A leader in any organization would do well to emulate that practice. Simply because an individual has been moved up in the organization, they should still actively take part in preparing younger workers to be better prepared to accept more challenges when future opportunities arise. Through active encouragement and assigning growth projects, leaders can adequately prepare inexperienced workers for future possibilities. If the organization is able to retain these individuals, it will be better off for it through increased loyalty and morale by means of internal upward mobility. People who hoard their knowledge and experience put their own ego ahead of everything else, and will not create an atmosphere of shared knowledge which may end up creating rifts within departments. A lack of knowledge sharing will hamper innovation and new ideas, thus limiting growth potential of any organization. Yoda did not have pride or ego to that level, and while being confident in his abilities, did not have the desire to be better than all others. Be a mentor to others.
2. Look to the Future and See the Possibilities
Multiple times in the Star Wars storyline, Yoda seemingly has the ability to see the future. This seer-like ability saw the potential fall of Anakin Skywalker to dark side, thus becoming Darth Vader. He does not see events exactly how they will unfold, but in a sense sees the potential outcome as a distinct possibility. Are leaders and managers supposed to be seers and see the future? Obviously this is not a possibility in reality, but leaders need to embrace a vision and constantly look forward to possibilities. In my current position as an IT manager, I can simply react to changing technology to stay current. If I apply this style, our department will forever be on the trailing edge of the technology curve. Looking back to five years ago, essentially many of the methods we used for performing our work would not apply today and if used, would be very inefficient. For my position, I not only need to look at what is the next step, but the one after that. For a leader of an organization, what is the next great product is nice to focus on, but what about the one after that? Steve Jobs may be a somewhat polarizing figure, but he did have the ability to see trends and patterns and to position Apple to take advantage of that. By applying disruptive innovation, he blew apart current industry concepts at that time (MP3s and iTunes store to disrupt record companies and stores) and even cannibalized Apple’s own products (iPhone replacing iPod as dominant MP3 playing device). Yoda, the CEO, would focus not on what is ongoing at the moment, but sees future possibilities and moves and aligns business strategy to follow suit. Embracing a blue ocean strategy is something all companies should strive for. Simply reacting will always keep a company and organization a step behind. Being complacent will push companies into meritocracy and making them irrelevant. Good current examples are Sears, J.C. Penney, or K-Mart which are not trying to redefine their businesses to remain relevant. As leaders and managers, individuals need to not simply keep pace with what is ongoing, but look to the future and have vision. This is not only at the CEO or executive level, but should be practiced down to all levels.
3. Take Action When Necessary
Yoda took action when necessary and actually practiced the concept of taking on the most challenging jobs himself in times of need. Being the Jedi council leader, Yoda was not above helping out, and would also take charge of any situation. In the Attack of the Clones (5th movie released, but 2nd in the story arc) he was actively commanding the clone army in their climatic battle over the separatists, and came to the rescue of Anakin in his duel with Count Dooku. Clearly not the type who receives a promotion or assumes control of an organization and then disappears, Yoda was in the fray and would take command of any situation at any time. Leaders who focus on job descriptions or think certain tasks are beneath them will never be able to generate respect amongst their staffs. If a project is falling behind schedule, coming in on weekend with everyone else, or staying late to help out will go a long way in endearing them to the staff. In a production or manufacturing environment, help out with the production from time to time. Adopting a philosophy that no job is too good for their talents and position will foster loyalty and cause the staff to follow these individuals into the fire if needed. If a leader asks the staff to sacrifice, if they have to spend time convincing them the importance of why it is required or plead with them, they have not been doing a good job inspiring their teams. Effective leaders would ask a staff to work extra or to rework a design, and the staff would not question the decision and would immediately push forth to achieve their new goal.
4. Model the Way
Did Yoda dictate the nature of things, or simply state the vision and direction, or did he actively participate in achieving the goals of the Jedi? Yoda did not shy away from challenges and actively took part in commanding battles, helping out others as he did with Obi-Wan and Anakin in their duel with Count Dooku. In the final moments of the republic, Yoda not only actively fought to maintain order, he went straight to confront the now emperor Palpatine. Yoda was a pillar of wisdom and knowledge as well as devoted himself to the light side of the force, which enabled him to stand out among leaders. In a sense, Yoda is a leader among leaders, the elite of the elite. His version of leadership was the model for all others to follow. As a leader, an individual absolutely must model the way as did Yoda. They cannot simply state a vision or mission, nor can they simply push through a code of ethics for an organization. A code of ethics or mission statements for an organization may be a good public relations move, in all reality, if the leadership of any organization is not following it, essentially not modeling the way, then they become hollow and meaningless. Yoda warned of the perils and temptation of the dark side, but in all reality the temptation may be too much for some to handle. Good leaders will not compromise their ethical standards at any cost, and as a result, their employees and followers will see an example to follow. Simply stating words in a code is something worthwhile, however, they need to be adhered to and practiced on a daily basis. Otherwise, they may find their lack of ethics being broadcasted on the nightly news.
Overall, Yoda was ancient and wise, but also directly involved in all processes. He did not micro-manage, nor did he delegate everything, but focused his efforts on fostering growth among the Jedi. Not all had equal powers or responsibilities, but he created the environment where they could grow to their full potential, as any good leader should. Those who keep all the important decisions to themselves, or those that do not trust their subordinates will only create an organization that is top heavy. In a sense, the elite will make the decisions, define the vision and goals, and will not allow qualified internal candidates to exist. Top heavy organizations can easily topple over due to unethical behavior of the elite, or quite possibly make bad strategic decisions which cannot be recovered from. Fostering an organization based on examples set forth by Yoda, an organization can create a good pool of internal talent, which will allow the organization to minimize bad business decisions and remain agile to changing business and technology trends.