Depending on your point of view, “Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi” either broke your heart by killing what you love or broke your heart by spending too much time in the Canto Bight casino. But the fact remains that, just as “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” had advice relevant to information security, “The Last Jedi” tells a tale of management and interpersonal dynamics. With lightsabers.
In most cases, the movie provides us with important cues on how not to lead a resistance against the First Order. Or the C-suite. We know it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference.
Here are some managerial lessons from “The Last Jedi” that you can use to lead a successful team. Lightsabers are optional.
Note: Here there be spoilers.
Rey: Think for yourself
Rey meets Luke on Ahch-To, and although she’s eager to learn the ways of the Force (but not very eager to learn how Luke gets his milk), Rey has a mind and opinions of her own. When Luke cautions Rey not to seek out Kylo Ren, in order to sway him toward the Light Side of the Force, Rey disobeys the Jedi Master.
Managers shouldn’t just instruct IT workers in the all-important lesson of where to find the coffeemaker. They also must teach staff to go beyond following orders and think for themselves. Staff should understand processes and procedures and be able to offer insightful improvements. This can be important if you’re the last Jedi the only manager and need your reports to get up to speed quickly.
Paul Höfle, a senior development manager who manages 35 people at a software company, says, “You know the old proverb, ‘Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime’? The same principle applies to technology.”
Höfle immediately puts a new recruit on a path of independence. When a new programmer joins the team, he gives them an assignment. But rather than explain how he wants the job done, Höfle shows the trainee how to research. New team members soon become proficient in discovering what it is they need to do, he explains.
Making sure staff can work independently, Höfle says, is one of the most important aspects of his job. That way, he can grow a creative and self-reliant team, rather than having to support underlings who demand his time at every turn.
After all, you want officers, not clone troopers. (Unless you’re evil.)
Vice Admiral Holdo: Communicate your plan
Amilyn Holdo, a trusted vice admiral handpicked by General Leia herself, isn’t required to explain her plans to escape the First Order to Poe Dameron, a newly demoted captain—so she doesn’t. With a complete lack of clarity, Poe mutinies. We expect Leia to bust Poe down to private in charge of latrines as a result.
As a manager, you don’t have to suffer Holdo’s fate. It’s sometimes true that you can’t communicate all the details or reasoning behind a project goal; proprietary or legal reasons may prevent you from doing so. But you should still communicate enough that the team trusts that you know what you’re doing.
“That’s a really tough management challenge—not just to have a vision, but to communicate as much of it as possible,” says Lee Howard, CEO of tech firm Retevia and a former IT manager who supervised nine other managers and a total of 130 reports. “In Holdo’s case, she didn’t communicate there was a plan. It looked like a lack of leadership. I would have preferred she say, ‘There is a plan, but you’re going to have to trust me on that.'”
Howard says he works to share his vision with his reports. “I had weekly team meetings and daily check-ins with people on staff,” he says. “At the beginning of every staff meeting, I repeat the vision statement and mission statements.” That way, he points out, every person in the room knows the big picture—and the even bigger picture. Nor does Howard assume everyone understands his intent: “I try to walk past each person once a day, so that they could grab me if they need to.“
That’s not just management. That’s leadership…
…kind of like Holdo displayed when she told General Leia she would go down with her ship. But had Holdo told Poe that his diminished rank made him ineligible to hear her strategy, she could have saved herself unwanted ire and put the rogue pilot in his place.
Poe Dameron: Manage your team’s rogue
Speaking of Poe, he spends the first scene in the film disobeying General Leia’s orders—and earning a demotion in the process. It is evident that the pilot has the impulse control of a death stick addict. Sadly, he is all but unmanageable.
There can be reasons to keep your team’s rogue on hand. Bruce Marold, who managed 30 people in a biomedical technology company, points out that a “cowboy” may be a better programmer who can get you out of jams, “as long as they don’t have a constant diet of putting out fires.”
But once your rogue goes down the path of short-term hacks, forever will they dominate your project. Cowboys are frequently adrenaline junkies who cause as many problems as they fix and can frustrate your team members’ plans, disrupt the rest of the team’s productivity, or even completely derail a project. So you need to take matters into hand.
One fix: Shunt poor performers, for whatever reason, to slow-moving projects. Marold says if the team rogue really had a difficult time staying on the track he laid out, he made the individual work on quality-centered tasks such as comparing results to project specifications. Verifying the quality of others’ work and learning the consequences of their own sloppy documentation might give the perpetrators a new respect for quality and a different perspective on “heroic” outcomes.
Elliot, who manages 40-plus employees in a technology company, has no time for someone who is a persistent misbehaver to the point that the person is disrupting the team’s momentum and losing sight of the goals. “No matter how bright they are or how theoretically valuable they are, If they are not a net positive, you need to move them out of the team—or possibly even the company,” he says.
Leia: Keep your skill set polished
We’ve known since all the way back in “Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back” that the future General Leia Organa was Force sensitive, and in the novel “Aftermath: Life Debt,” we learn that Luke trained Leia to use her powers. It’s a good thing, too, or else she would never have survived the vacuum of space when she was blown out of her ship.
Maintaining your training isn’t just important in a galaxy far, far away. It’s important if you want your resume so polished that it shines.
Höfle refuses to let his technical skills fade away as Luke did. (Too soon?) “I personally make sure, regardless of the workload, that I take on some of the development work, and I won’t give it up,” he says. If you don’t understand what your reports are doing, you can’t know if their code is behaving the way it should. Plus, given the breadth of the tech industry, not keeping your skills up is detrimental to your career.
And that’s why even managers need to hit an online tutorial site or contribute to an open source project. You never know when you’ll need to work with the most recent version of Gentoo or save yourself from temperatures of 3 Kelvin.
Luke: Learn to manage remotely
Luke Skywalker, who had disconnected himself from the Force, ultimately reconnects and projects himself across the galaxy to delay the First Order’s advance and buy Leia and the Resistance time to escape. You may not have to cross an entire galaxy as Luke did, but when you’re in one office and your team works in another or from their homes, it’s time to develop remote managing skills.
One of the arts of managing teams remotely is knowing when to leave the team members to get on with their work and when to turn up and ask (or answer) questions. That’s especially true when remote team members have a challenging assignment and may need to deal with stakeholders or local problems.
Use teleconferencing to place yourself into the loop, says Elliot. Doing so helps you learn the context directly from the team and provide guidance if things get contentious. “It’s important that your team doesn’t feel that you’re looking over their shoulder every moment. But at the same time, it’s also important they know you’re engaged and have their back when needed,” Elliot adds.
Schedule weekly meetings and check-ins to track the team’s well-being. And put in an occasional appearance. You’re not just giving your reports some face time; you’re cosplaying Luke Skywalker. Lightsabers are still optional.
This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.