He cut off his son’s hand. He choked his management team. He threw his boss down a ventilation shaft. Darth Vader was a crappy father, an uninspiring leader, and a nightmare employee.
July 7, 2016
Be the Droids You Are Looking For
How to avoid the dark side and become the ultimate power in the universe
But what if Obi-Wan and Liam Neeson had never found the young Anakin Skywalker on Tatooine so long ago? What if that adorable little kid had simply grown up in the desert and started his own business? Could he have been a successful entrepreneur? Judging from how he ran his department at the Empire, it’s clear his startup would have turned to the dark side—as in lights out, no more money, everyone go home. His actions as Sith Lord reveal a host of critical errors that business leaders today, in this galaxy, must try to avoid.
During the startup frenzy following the dissolution of the Old Republic, Imperial investment dollars flowed to Vader and his management team. Their one-word pitch was “Fear.” Their product a docile and compliant populace enabling their bold vision: A mighty Galactic Empire. All presented in 10 Powerpoint slides.
Their mission statement was short and sweet: Crush the Rebellion. Taking their pitch to heart, the marketing department dubbed their first product “the Empire’s ultimate weapon, with enough power to destroy an entire planet.” A clear value proposition, laser-focused for a large target audience. BOOM.
Yet as the team was making the final push toward the release of Death Star 1.0, where was their fearless leader? He should be asking tough questions and considering known risks. He should be encouraging them and communicating clear expectations and priorities.
But rather than focusing on the one thing most critical to the venture’s success— technological terror they should all be proud of—Darth Vader was not even in his office.
Instead of driving execution, he was far away, huffing and puffing on board the Imperial Star Destroyer Devastator chasing Princess Leia through deep space.
He should have been focusing on his team and their mission.
Instead, Vader was worrying about the competition.
What are the Rebels planning? Are they trying to steal my ideas? Understanding what others in the market are doing (or might do) is important when developing your strategy. But unless a market change invalidates that strategy, you are just wasting time and energy that should be spent on execution of your plan.
Ideas and strategy are meaningless without execution. Execute, execute, execute.
So what if the competition has stolen plans to your battle station? When you focus on your team, on your product, on your customers, you will find your weaknesses like open holes leading to the reactor core before they do. Don’t worry about what bullets your competitors may have—worry about becoming bulletproof.
Vader did not stay on target. The business blew up spectacularly, leaving investors and the entire organization in the dust.
While the end may have come more abruptly than even an astute analyst would have predicted, Vader’s top-down-choke-you-from-way-over-here-with-my-fingers approach created a culture that would not last long in any galaxy.
Never question your superiors. Do exactly what you’re told. Risk will not be rewarded. In organizations like Vader’s, workers will inevitably (often inadvertently) sow the seeds of their own demise. While capturing Leia, Vader ordered gunners on the Devastator to blast anyone fleeing her disabled ship. Yet when the escape pod carrying C3P0 and R2D2 (and the stolen plans) floated through their crosshairs en route to the planet below, they let them go, because sensors indicated there were “no life forms” aboard. An empowered team would have been less literal, firing away and ending our hero’s journey before it even began.
You could perhaps argue the gunners were simply doing their part to cut expenses and lower burn rate. Maybe their laser machine was running low on laser juice. Perhaps, but their decision did not take place in a vacuum. Actually it DID occur in a vacuum because SPACE HUMOR but LET’S MOVE ON.
Not long after the droids escaped, a search began on the planet’s surface. Vader’s team quickly found them hanging out with an old man and a ratty kid, headed to the spaceport. And then… they let them go.
We cannot blame the supervisor who succumbs to Obi-wan’s Jedi mind trick. After all, it’s Jedi. And it’s a trick. He is forced to repeat Obi-wan’s words to his subordinates, who say nothing. “These are not the droids we are looking for. Move along.”
And off they went. But this call and response took place in full view of his team. These are obviously the droids they are looking for. There’s the skinny gold one and there’s the little recycling bin. Why didn’t someone speak up and question the boss’s decision to let them go? Vader’s organization valued obedience over results. Rather than a virtuous cycle of continuous improvement, we see a downward spiral of employee disengagement.
Vader certainly believed in his cause. As a startup leader, passionate commitment to your vision is not enough. You can’t do everything yourself. Issuing direct commands rather than encouraging innovation is a seductive approach to keeping the team focused—and it’s a trap (you knew that was coming, didn’t you). Better to lead through clear priorities, key metrics and empowered individuals than sheer force of will. Innovation over immolation.
Despite being flush with cash and snappy (though oddly not laser-proof) uniforms, Vader’s organization failed to achieve their Imperial goals. Attacked by a nimble competitor that valued innovation and individuals empowered to try new things in new ways, their weaknesses were found and exploited before they could react. Vader’s refusal to delegate led to the sudden forced liquidation of all company assets and eliminated over one million jobs without warning.
Clear priorities, continuous improvement and focused execution will give your team its power. A shared vision will surround your team and bind them together.
Little Anakin underestimated the power of this approach, and his ventures big or small were doomed to fail. What will you do? What could your team become?