7 Leadership Lessons from Yoda

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Yoda the Mentor as a Great Leader from Star Wars
Yoda (896 BBY - 4 ABY)

Perhaps the most iconic mentoring leader on the silver screen, Yoda is an excellent example of great leadership. Here are 7 leadership lessons from the great servant leader, Yoda:

1. You are not the hero, but your Padawan may be

Yoda Mentor Padawan YounglingsYes, Yoda is cool. However, he’s not the popular hero of the series. Instead, he is the driving force behind the heroes, Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Similarly, great leaders focus on the future. They build their experience, knowledge and wisdom into others. It brings comfort to the best leaders to see their padawan (mentees) succeed.

 

2. You may be misunderstood

When he first meets Yoda, Luke Skywalker underestimates him:

Yoda: Help you I can. Yes, mmmm.
Luke: I don’t think so. I’m looking for a great warrior.
Yoda: Ohhh. Great warrior… Wars not make one great.

To further the misunderstanding, Yoda’s way of talking is different than most. Great leaders are often misunderstood by others. The servant leader’s emphasis on service over power and humility over vanity goes against the popular notion. You may not be tiny, green, ancient and speak funny, but you will be misunderstood.

3. If you’re not careful, your organization may produce a Darth Vader

Darth Vader's Helmet Face - Bad Leadership ProductYoda expresses concern about young Anakin Skywalker. Sure enough, the worst fears come true and Anakin becomes the evil Darth Vader. Great leaders have a great deal of accountability when mentoring and raising the future generations of their organization. Use care in when hiring, mentoring and promoting.

Yoda: Twisted by the Dark Side, young Skywalker has become. The boy you trained, gone he is… Consumed by Darth Vader.

4. You live in the muck

Yoda lived on the Dagobah System when Luke Skywalker finds him. This swamp world is full of mud, muck, grime and filth. The home of Yoda is a tiny mud hut. Like Yoda’s home, great leaders do not live in an ivory tower. To the contrary, they invest a lot of time in the thick of things.  In serving their stakeholders, great leaders are not afraid to get their hands dirty.

Luke: I want my lamp back. I’m gonna need it to get out of this slimy mudhole.
Yoda: Mudhole? Slimy? My home this is!

5. You’re work is never done

Anakin Skywalker, Yoda, Obi-Wan Kinobi GhostsYoda was more than 900 years old when he met his last student (Luke). In fact, even after he died, Yoda continued to coach and mentor the younger Skywalker. Great leaders understand that work is never done. Work-life alignment is important, but the work is unending.

 

6. Sometimes, you have to kick evil’s butt yourself

Yoda Fighting Evil with Light SaberAncient by human terms, but still spirited and full of Force, Yoda knows when he must pick up the light saber and do battle himself. Great leaders focus on building others to extend the culture of service and the positive influence of their organizations. However, when necessary, leaders who serve are not afraid to join in the hand-to-hand combat of their organization.

 

Darth Sidious: I have waited a long time for this moment, my little green friend. At last, the Jedi are no more.
Yoda: Not if anything to say about it I have!

7. It’s up to you

Like Yoda, great leaders understand the future is up to them. If Yoda had not gone into exile on Dagobah, patiently waiting for the right opportunity, all could have been lost. Yoda was the last hope for the people against the Dark Force. He had to train Luke to conquer the Emporer and Darth Vader. Similarly, it’s up to you, as a great leader, to conquer the toxic leadership so many organizations are fraught with today.

If you realize it’s up to you, please, check out our servant leadership manifesto to learn more about humble leadership through service.

Question: What other leadership examples do you see from Yoda or other Star Wars characters?[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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Picture of Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner

Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here: About Ben Lichtenwalner

17 thoughts on “7 Leadership Lessons from Yoda”

  1. There are many life lessons to be learned through Star Wars, and leadership is a big one. One of my favorite examples is that of Han Solo. He went from a selfish smuggler to someone who care for to the point of being will to die for others. He was daring and passionate and make a lot of interpersonal mistakes, but no one can discount his inspirational ability to lead. His progression as a person and a leader is a great example to follow.

      1. Also, I am going to rewatch all my old favorite movies (Star Wars, LOTR, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, and others) looking for life lessons. I’ve noticed them before, but not since I started blogging. Your post has opened up my eyes to new ventures!

  2. Pingback: YODA Leadership « Griffsbizblog

  3. Agreed, this is a fantastic analysis summary of the many parallels between Star Wars and leadership.  Another one to draw great parallels from is The Karate Kid (original).

  4. Ben, I think you missed one of the great personal leadership lessons from Yoda:
     
    Yoda: Always with you it cannot be done.
    Luke: All right, I’ll give it a try.
    Yoda: NO! Try Not!  Do or Do Not . .. there is no Try!
    Luke:  I can’t . . . it’s too big.
    Yoda: Size matters not .. . judge me by my size?  Only difference is in your mind . . you must UNlearn what you have learned.
    Luke: You ask the impossible!   I don’t believe it!
    Yoda: And that is why you fail.

  5. Ben,

    I really enjoyed your post on leadership qualities as told by Yoda. In my
    Ethics and Corporate Responsibility class in my masters program, we are
    discussing different perspectives on examining ethical communication. This
    week, we are looking at Religious perspectives in western and non-western
    cultures. I find it specifically interesting to look at the similarities
    between the two and how it relates to leadership. There are 6 ethical standards
    found in western and non-western perspectives that I believe are the perfect
    fit with Yoda: tell the truth, do not slander anyone, do not dishonor anyone,
    avoid demeaning communication, embody ethical virtues and showing others how
    close to excellence a person can become.  

     

    I think Yoda would completely agree
    that being a good leader involves complete ethical communication following the
    standards listed above. For example, you said “In serving their stakeholders,
    great leaders are not afraid to get their hands dirty.” I interpret this to
    mean that no matter what, leaders want to communicate to their stakeholders
    that they are the most important ones. Also, lesson 6 “sometimes, you have to
    kick evil’s butt yourself,” fits perfectly with the 6 standards. By “kicking
    evil’s butt”, you are taking on the responsibility to honor, not slander, and
    avoid demeaning communication by completing the action yourself.

     

    Thanks for the post!

     

    Sincerely,

    Jessica Overend

    Communication Graduate Student

    Drury University

    1. Thank you, Jessica, for all the great feedback. I am thrilled to hear of the comprehensive approach in your ethics course. Too many of these programs only focus on legal aspects. Keep up the amazing work and service you do with BB/BS too!

  6. This is very interesting. I was wondering if you had any more information or examples from the film? Any resources or articles written about leadership behaviour and star wars (Yoda). I am writing a case-study on this and would very much appreciate any other input you have.

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