Leadership and the Force

To be a good follower of the Force, a Jedi must be adept at leading.  This does not mean that one is expected to supervise hundreds of subordinates, or even one person, but that he or she would feel comfortable in doing so if called upon.  Why is this skill so important to a Jedi?  As alluded before and found in the Everyday Tao lesson called Run, to follow the Force (referred to as Tao in the book) means one has to go out and be a part of it.  In order to learn more about oneself, others and the Force, a Jedi must acquire knowledge through seeking out challenges; and nothing is more challenging (or rewarding) than leading others, especially through adversity.

Leadership skills are something I have committed my life to perfecting as it is something that is demanded of me in my occupation as a military officer.  I do not consider myself an expert at leading but as a humble student of the discipline with much yet to learn. I’ve served as a platoon leader in a deployed environment and a company commander for two years but never in combat.  I mention this about myself to the reader so that he or she may understand my authority as well as my limits with regards to this topic.  What I will discuss below are some key, distilled leadership lessons I’ve learned in my eight year career leading Soldiers and Paratroopers.  Unfortunately, most of these lessons were acquired by being subjected to insufficient leadership but were invaluable to me, nonetheless.  I hope by sharing these that Jedi may benefit from them, regardless of their occupation and calling in the Force.  An additional note to the reader:  None of these lessons are in any particular order of importance or have more weight than any other.

Lesson I:  “Soldiers Eat First”:  Most of these lessons focus around the dynamic between the leader and the follower(s).  This dynamic, or relationship, is built on care and trust.  A Jedi must establish trust with those that he or she leads by demonstrating genuine care and concern for the wellbeing of those under his or her charge.  There is no more iconic way of displaying this than putting the followers’ needs before that of the leader’s.  In the U.S. Army, the officers always allow subordinates to go through the chow-line first.  A simple gesture but it conveys a massive message:  By allowing them to eat the hottest, freshest and widest variety of food (nothing good is usually left for the officers at the end of the line), that their nourishment and morale is more important than the leader’s own.  It is small gestures like this that go a long way to building trust and cohesion between a group and its leader.

Lesson II:  Never Be Too Proud to Get Your Hands Dirty:  This lesson goes hand in hand with the first.  As a leader, one often enjoys privileges that go a long with all the responsibility.  However, by occasionally setting the privileges aside and shouldering some of the load, especially during difficult times, demonstrates to one’s subordinates that a Jedi is not too good to perform those actions expected of those that he or she leads.  An anecdote that may better help to illustrate this lesson would be for a leader to pull a subordinate’s duty when they are very tired, or the conditions are unfavorable, but the mission at hand must persist.  Once I pulled a guard duty for one of my Soldiers when it was cold and rainy instead of resting after completing my own duties.  Another instance of this was when I witnessed a battalion commander relieve his staff duty and man the desk himself on Christmas Day so that they may be with their families.  By getting down to the subordinate’s level, a Jedi may, once again, garner trust with subordinates but also, an understanding of their situation and conditions.  However, a leader must be cautious, and not do this at the behest of being able to perform his or her own duties.  A Jedi must be unrestrained and in possession of his or her faculties at all times in order to make sound decisions.

Lesson III:  Be Decisive:  Nothing is more frustrating to a subordinate than a leader who is incapable of making a decision.  Stalling or deferring one’s responsibility to make decisions erodes subordinates’ confidence in the leadership abilities of a Jedi.  Making decisions can be frightening at times.  However, if a Jedi makes a decision based on how one understands the current situation, for better or worse, it is far more beneficial than scrambling about without a plan of action.  However, remember that inaction is considered action.  If the leader’s decision is to be passive and let the situation develop as the Force wills it, then there is nothing wrong with that, as a decision was made. “Always in motion is the future,” as the fictional character Yoda once said.  This is true. The Force is fluid and by making a decision, a Jedi opens him or her self to new circumstances by which an infinite amount of possibilities can be realized.  In this way, a Jedi can manipulate the Force in accordance with his or her own will by being decisive.  Do not be afraid to make a decision as the Force will reward you with your energy and commitment to a plan.

Lesson IV:  “Lead From the Front”:  Leading “from the front” is a well-worn cliche.  It is also frequently explained as the inverse of the equally common platitude: “Do as I say, not as I do.”  This is all about setting a good example for others to follow and illustrates the dangers of hypocrisy and cowardice that can be exuded by a leader that will inevitably poison an organization.  However, I want to take this a bit deeper.  Yes, normally the “front” is where a leader should be.  It is undoubtedly inspiring for subordinates to see their leader at the head of the charge.  However, a Jedi must listen to the Force and understand where the center of gravity and the decisive action of a given situation is, and put him or her self there to best control events and make sound decisions on behalf of all.  The position of a leader is critical and a Jedi must always be mindful of it and alter it in accordance with the flow of the Force.

Lesson V:  Follow Orders but Do Not Be a ‘Yes-Man’:  Everyone answers to someone, even leaders.  Normally, orders and tasks are down-told and are to be executed with diligence by subordinate leaders.  A good subordinate leader takes that order, understands it and makes it their own.  It is better to say, “We are doing this because I believe it to be the best course of action,” rather than, “We’re doing this because my boss said so.” However, orders can sometimes be neither clear, applicable nor seem to be sensible upon receipt of them for a myriad of reasons as the Force is fluid and the situation is dynamic.  A good Jedi will communicate these unforeseen incongruities, problems or risks concerning the order in a respectful manner accompanied with alternative solutions.  Leaders have a responsibility to do this as it will protect one’s subordinates from the backlash of executing a bad order as they will bear the brunt of the misfortune.  Do not openly complain about these problems in front of subordinates as it will breed mistrust in the chain of command.  However, some subordinate leaders are the opposite and are eager to placate their boss by being overly agreeable and telling him or her what they want to hear and not necessarily what they need to hear.  A Jedi should always be truthful and loyal to both their senior leaders and subordinates when given poor or insufficient guidance to execute.

Lesson VI:  Give Clear & Concise Guidance:  Subordinates need easy to understand and executable instructions.  In this case, simplicity is everything.  Too many details can be just as damaging or confusing as too few of them.  A fine line must be achieved.  A good framework to follow is task, purpose and end-state.  This is a very clear and concise framework that tells subordinates what they are to do, why it must be done, and what is the desirable conditions upon completion.  If a Jedi’s intent is not clear then subordinates run the risk of not meeting the leader’s objective.  However, a Jedi should have trust and confidence in his or her subordinates to accomplish assigned tasks and not tell them exactly how to do it.  This will be seen as “micromanaging.”  Encourage subordinates to be creative and solve problems for themselves as long as they are operating within your intent is preferable.  However, a good leader must be cognizant of subordinates’ capabilities and limitations and adjust the level of detail accordingly in order to achieve desired results.

Lesson VII: Obtain a Healthy Understanding of Winning & Losing:  All good leaders want to win at whatever their team or organization strives at.  However, winning can be intoxicating for leaders and may eventually turn toxic if not checked.  Good organizations practice or train to their essential, core tasks.  A leader should plan, organize and oversee these endeavors but must be understanding of the limitations of their subordinates.  A sword’s edge can only be sharpened so finely before it begins to dull.  A Jedi should listen to the Force and know when to stop and let subordinates rest before trying to hone the edger further in an attempt to win.  Winning can be fun and creates an electric atmosphere amongst an organization, but if a Jedi becomes consumed by it, it may result in hubris and eventual, grievous failure.   On the other hand, losing or failure, can be a useful tool as it illuminates weaknesses that might not have otherwise been detected unless tested or trained.  A good Jedi and leader does not dwell on losing but will reflect on the causes of failure and find ways to win next time.

Lesson VIII:  Be Fair & Impartial:  In terms of punishment and reward, a Jedi exemplifies leadership by showing neither favoritism nor scorn when it comes to individual subordinates.  Everyone is different in the Force as each possesses their own strengths and weaknesses.  However, they must be treated the same—with dignity and respect by their leaders.  If a leader shows favoritism or singles out a subordinate then it will bode ill for them as this unbalance will cause a cancer to grow in the organization that is oftentimes impossible to stop.  Always take time to recognize the good deeds and hard work performed by subordinates in front of their peers in order to bolster morale and reinforce positive action within all who witness.  However, be equally as quick to bring justice to those who seek to erode good order and discipline within  the organization.  Tolerance of such things will only breed more insubordination.  Take time to develop those who exude incorrect or contradictory behavior but if corrective measures do not work after a sufficient amount of time, do not hesitate to exact punishment.  Be mindful that a leader uses an appropriate punishment that is neither too harsh nor too lenient in light of the trespass.  Trust in the Force when dealing with these situations and a leader will not go wrong.

Lesson IX:  Listen to Subordinates & the Gut:  A Jedi should always solicit input from peers and subordinates, if time permits.  A leader must admit to him or her self that they do not know everything and there are many perspectives to understanding a problem. If a Jedi encourages his or her followers to provide constructive criticism and their perspectives during the planning process and they see it being taken into consideration, then subordinates feel that they have have invested interest in and ownership of the mission.  This inclusion makes subordinates feel as if they are a part of the team and that the leader values their opinion, fostering esprit de corps.  Despite all of the various perspectives offered, a Jedi must feel the Force and trust their “gut” instinct for what is the best course of action.  Do not become overwhelmed by choice. Reach out, feel, and act accordingly.  This harkens back to the decisiveness lesson.

Lesson X:  Be Flexible:  A Jedi should always be in tune with the Force so as to be in touch with its subtle currents.  The Force is not a subordinate and does not follow the leader’s plan.  It is always the other way around.  With this holding true, a Jedi should always be flexible and not a slave to the plan, especially when conditions change.  In the Army, it is a common saying that “no plan survives first contact.” Nothing could be further from the truth.  The Force and the opposition always have a vote. Acknowledging this allows a Jedi to bend like the bamboo against the wind but return upright and never break under pressure.  Also on this topic, a 70% complete plan before execution is better than a 100% plan delivered too late.  Allow for flexibility in any course of action and the Force will reward the leader with success.

Lesson XI:  Rehearse:  For leaders and organizations to be successful, they must practice what they are to execute.  Rehearsing allows leaders to identify flaws and friction points in a given plan as well as to interject possible circumstances that will derail it, testing subordinates reactions and forcing the adoption of contingencies.  This crucial pre-execution task should never be neglected as it will offer all who participate a deeper understanding of their tasks and that of those around them.  This shared understanding pays dividends for if one person is unable to perform, the man or woman to the left of right will know what to do, allowing the plan to continue rather than be mired by confusion and inaction.  Leaders should execute their own actions as well while simultaneously observing their subordinates rehearsals.  A Jedi should always rehearse for they never know what the Force may present them when it comes to the moment of execution.

Lesson XII:  Prepare for the Next Fight:  After completing a task, it is crucial to set up subordinates and the unit as a whole up for success for the next, eventual challenge.  It is easy to get caught up in success or become embittered by defeat.  A good leader will seize these feelings in the organization and use it as a vehicle for positive ends and prepare for the next hurdle.  This can be as simple as cleaning and properly putting equipment away so that is is ready for use next time with minimal preparation.  A Jedi never puts off, for the sake of convenience, what can be done now.  This is a positive trait that will rub-off on subordinates and is relatable to the next topic:  conducting after-action reviews.

Lesson XIII:  Conduct After-Action Reviews:  The military is fond of AARs but they are equally applicable and beneficial to any organization.  These “hot-washes” should be conducted immediately following any activity in order to capture lessons learned while they are still fresh in the minds of leaders and subordinates.  A Jedi should host them and include everyone under his or her charge to amass positive and negative aspects of an organization’s performance.  A way of conducting them is for the host to say what was supposed to happen (the plan), what actually did happen (reality) and ask for sustains and improves from those who participated.  It is important to take the ego out of the equation, accept fault and be open to criticism if one is the leader in such a forum.  This is a learning experience and only the truth and an atmosphere that encourages its presence will benefit everyone going forward.

Lesson XIV:  Represent & Enforce Your Standards:  If a Jedi is to hold subordinates to a certain standard then they should hold to it themselves as well.  Leaders should never allow double standards to exist in an organization for he or she will suffer the resentment of those that are to follow them.  The old axiom, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” lends much to this lesson.  Additionally, if a leader allows the standard they set to slide then it becomes the new standard.  This is non-negotiable, especially in matters of safety and personal conduct.  If a Jedi holds him or her self to a high standard of moral character, appearance and conduct with others then the organization will follow suit.  Typically, if a leader is strong then the organization is a reflection of him or her.  A Jedi represents all that is good in the Force; so too should their subordinates.
Lesson XV:  Improve the Self:  A Jedi can only become a better leader if he or she is dedicated to self development.  This can be achieved through reading, seeking help from a mentor, reflecting through mediation and of course, seeking out further responsibility and greater leadership challenges.  One’s subordinates deserve the best leader possible; one who is dedicated to improving his or her craft.  It is found in Everyday Tao, that “Good leaders succeed in adverse conditions.  Bad leaders can lose in favorable conditions.  Therefore, good leaders constantly strive to perfect themselves, lest their shortcomings mar their endeavors.”  Understand that just as one studies the Force, studying leadership is a never-ending process that can neither be truly complete but the never ending journey to self improvement and knowledge is rewarding with every step.

It is important to understand that these fifteen lessons are not all there is to know about this topic.  These are the majority of the things I have observed and acquired over a small amount of time in my life in the circumstances and opportunities that the Force has afforded me.  As I learn and grow, so too will this list and I look forward to sharing it with you.  Until then, I look forward to your feedback and questions in the Leadership & The Force thread in the Ways of the Force Forum.  I leave you with this final quote from Everyday Tao, “The quality of the leader determines the quality of the organization.  A leader who lacks intelligence, virtue and experience cannot hope for success.”

May the Force be with you…

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