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Leadership Lessons Learned from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Please note: this article contains spoilers.

After the success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Act III of the Star Wars Saga is off to a sterling start. By expanding the mythology of the series beyond the original trilogy, Disney will surely continue to capture gold for years to come while allowing for new stories to be told. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is one such tale and there are plans for a young Han Solo movie and perhaps even a Boba Fett spin-off as well.

The synopsis of the film goes: In a time of conflict, a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.

On the surface, Rogue One is about the audacity of hope in overcoming outlandish odds to bring about meaningful change. But this movie is also very much about the power of causes and how each person, once fully committed to a cause, can make an impact. In that sense I found it to be a fantastic leadership case study.

A shared cause can glue together even the most unlikely of allies to achieve a greater good.

With this thought in mind, allow me to present 5 key leadership lessons gleaned from this epic adventure.

  1. Principals come first: At the beginning of the film, Galen Urso, a brilliant research scientist is hiding out on the planet Lah'mu when Imperial weapons developer Orson Krennic arrives to take him to complete the unfinished Death Star. For the greater good, Galen probably should have sacrificed himself rather than allow his brilliance to be twisted into crafting a weapon of mass destruction. Instead, his wife is killed and he is taken back into Imperial custody where he is forced to complete the destructive machine. In business, a leader's judgement and values are constantly tested. But just because you can do something, does not mean that you should. If you find yourself rationalizing in favor of a breach of your own morals and values, nothing good will come from it. Better to double down on the side of right and pay the price of good character in the present versus delaying the penalty for some short term gain.

  2. Together is better: The rebel alliance has a tremendous asset on its side in intelligence officer Cassian Andor, but he prefers the company of a sarcastic (and often hilariously snarky) droid K-2SO to other humans. Jyn Urso is a loner who has been able to stay off the Imperial radar since the childhood tragedy that resulted in her mother's murder and father's capture. They are thrown together by fate but bound together by the shared cause of dealing a significant blow to the Empire. Along the way they ally themselves with a blind spiritual warrior Chirrut Îmwe, his mercenary friend Baze Malbus, and pilot Bodhi Rook carrying a message of hope. Individually, each of them is extremely flawed, but together they accomplish the impossible. People are full of rough edges with peaks of brilliance and troughs of ineptitude but teams are designed to be well-rounded. And when collective talent is aligned behind a shared purpose, good things usually follow. It is the job of a leader to make sure that teams are greater than the sum of their parts and to aim this multiplied virtuosity at Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) that will stretch the group to achieve more than each individual could ever accomplish on their own.

  3. Faith takes practice: Throughout the movie, blind spiritual warrior Chirrut Îmwe constantly repeats the phrase: I am ONE with the force and the force is with me. He says it mostly in moments of high tension and crisis, and this mantra enables him to proactively confront some significant challenges. You get the sense that he has been repeating the phrase and then acting accordingly for many years, to the point that it has become more than a mantra - it is a way of being. For this warrior, hope is not a strategy, it is a powerful motivation to action - despite the obstacles. It's been said that success is built on small daily habits that are consistently repeated and applied. If you and your teams are not achieving the desired results, it might be time to re-examine your daily habits and mantras. When you find habits and mantras that keep you moving forward regardless of inevitable barriers, adopt and repeat them early and often.

  4. Don't run, fight: Once Jyn and Co. make it back at the rebel base with the confirmed intel that the Empire has a devastating weapon in their hands they intend to use to end the rebellion, the leaders of the uprising cower in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. In this moment, Jyn finds herself abandoned due to the cowardice of her superiors but she decides to disobey them and fight for freedom anyway. Her insubordination inspires many others to join the cause and ultimately they are successful in securing the precious plans to the Death Star's one hidden vulnerability. There are two powerful leadership lessons to take from this - 1) trust your people and 2) defend your values. Leaders should be on the lookout for colleagues like Jyn - who embody the values of the enterprise and want to defend them at all costs. When you find your organization's values threatened by internal or external threats, rally your forces and fight back with everything you have. These are the battles that you MUST win or else risk extinction.

  5. Sacrifice is necessary: In a pivotal moment, once they have identified the location of the Death Star plans, the droid K-2SO sacrifices itself so Cassian and Jyn can accomplish their mission. In business, there are crucial instances when one or multiple team members must sacrifice something in order for team goals to be achieved. These sacrifices may come in the form of funding, ego, promotion, or other individually important aspects that could hinder team success. As a leader it is important to explain the wider context behind priorities, recognize sacrifices being made by individuals on the team, and ensure alignment with the path forward. Leaders also must make their own sacrifices such as ignoring short term gains in favor of long-term sustainability; using authority instead of positional power to influence outcomes; and empowering and encouraging team members to make good choices versus taking the top down directive approach.

Overall, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was a thrilling and inspiring addition to the Star Wars cannon (5 out of 5 stars from me).

What other leadership lessons did you glean from the film? Let us know in the comments below. And please give the

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