Jedi Leadership Lessons


Leadership |

Sometimes it’s best to let people learn on their own rather than handing them the answers on a plate. Of course, in crisis moments this may not be feasible. However, when the opportunity presents itself to allow members of your company to go through the problem solving process, you’ve now given them the ability to affect change on their own! This post by Kotter International Engagement Leader, Ken Perlman, reminds us how valuable it can be for management to step back and allow team members to discover their own way when trying to take on change management in their business.

(This content was previously published by Kotter International Engagement on Forbes.com.)

Jedi Leadership: The Value of Lessons Learned vs. Lessons TaughtJedi Leadership

Luke, I am your father.

With those few words, I instantly became the worst…father…ever.

My wife gave me that look. The I-cannot-believe-you-just-did-that look. I’ve been married long enough to know there is a top echelon of ‘stupid things my husband just did’ that earns that look. And this one made the cut.

My then 6-year-old daughter and I were pretend sword-fighting with a couple of those over-priced plastic theme-park lightsabers when she accidentally hit my hand with her sword. I screamed, “No!!! Luke, I am your father!” Then came: “Daddy, who is Luke and are you his father?” My oblivious response? “Oh, that’s a reference to a movie called Star Wars that I can’t wait to watch with you someday. Luke Skywalker’s father is Anakin Skywalker who eventually turns evil and becomes Darth Vader.

I didn’t realize what I had done until I saw my wife’s face. In one sentence, I had deprived my daughter one of my generation’s greatest cinematic reveals. Fourteen hours of movies (some better than others) are now and forever far less interesting. I had stolen this incredible experience from my daughter with just a few words.

So where’s the leadership lesson in that, Master Yoda? Cue up the Yoda voice, “Ask yourself you must: More important – apprentice’s learning or your teaching? Let apprentices learn, you must.

I see this same thing happen with many of my clients. Teams of staff, managers, and even some executives bring their problems to the senior-most executive looking for answers. Then the senior-most executive actually gives them direct, specific instructions.

This is a great approach in a crisis or in situations where seconds matter. But in most business situations, the executive has just deprived the staff of a huge opportunity – the opportunity to create alternate solutions, test, debate, and decide. It’s the chance to own the solution and benefit from the struggle of having to figure it out. That means these teams never have that OMG moment; they never learn to learn together as a team. Instead, the dependence on the senior executive is reinforced.

This type of help rewards the senior executive by making her or him feel valued, smart, knowledgeable, and needed. But it simultaneously deprives each member of his or her team of something far more valuable. Having not been given the permission, space, responsibility, and ownership to solve their own problems, it ensures that those reporting to the senior executive will never be as capable as their leader. This is one reason why 20 of the Fortune 500 are without a CEO right now.

We are taking away learning opportunities from those who follow us in the name of managing speed (Anakin) or stroking our ego (Vader). And it is ultimately slowing us down, shooting ourselves in the foot (or lightsaber-ing our right hand off).

My advice?

  1. Don’t tell your kid who Luke’s father is. Let them experience it for themselves.
  2. Don’t give your teams the answers to their challenges. Respond to their requests for help with really good questions and support for whatever they decide. This will let them grow and develop. Even more importantly, you increase the capabilities of those who work for you, which ultimately makes your job easier and more rewarding.

Armed with that knowledge, you can play Yoda and help your apprentices become masters in their own right.

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