Looking at leadership: Lessons from an impatient Padawan

May 04, 2018 by Jalin B. Johnson, Ed.D.

Light saberEight and three. 

Those were the ages of me and my brother when we earned our first lightsabers. They were toys, but as far as we were concerned, they were the tools of a true Jedi apprentice. 

Delivering random sentences in the speech pattern of Master Yoda was not uncommon in our household. And, for whatever reason, any of us could quickly spot an Ewok through the dense forests on Endor or a Tauntaun through a fog off snow on Hoth (which if you know anything about Tauntaun biology isn’t really that difficult). 

It was decades later when I realized that my own “Star Wars” fan-girl experiences were actually a conduit to a number of life lessons originally instilled by our parents. Following Joseph Campbell’s (1949) concept of a “Heroes Journey,” “Star Wars” creator George Lucas follows the trials and tribulations of an impatient Padawan (Luke Skywalker), during his quest as an apprentice to become a Jedi knight. This story, as its ongoing iterations continue to display, had a lot to tell us about mentorship, principles and integrity.

As we approach this year's “Star Wars” Day (May 4th), and think of creative ways to work may the fourth be with you,”into a conversation, let’s take a moment and look at some of the lessons learned through the eyes of a Padawan on his journey to become a Jedi knight:

1. Mind your elders.When Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru Lars warned Luke to think of his future, they had no idea of how perilous his endeavors might be. It was however, solid advice.

2. Collect mentors. Never forget Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi – need we say more?

3. Good friends are built to last. (Pun intended). C-3PO and R2-D2 became two of the most treasured supporters of Luke during his quest. 

4. Don’t judge a book by its cover.Surviving on whit and overcoming a life of crime (after being orphaned as a young boy), the Corellia-born Han Solo made his way to becoming one of the best pilots in the galaxy. After a brief encounter in the Mos Eisley cantina on Tatooine, what began as a quick (17k credits worth) journey to Alderaan, turned out to be a force for change. Han Solo and Chewbacca became two unlikely, yet important figures during Luke’s formidable Padawan years. 

5. Just as wisdom is a gift, patience is acquired. Master Yoda had this in droves and Luke’s short time with him was invaluable. The Jedi master’s sage advice at the conclusion of Luke's training in the swamps of Dagobah, is not easily forgotten - "Do. Or do not. There is no try” (“The Empire Strikes Back)

6. Be mindful of the company that you keep.While it is safe to say that Luke and Grand Moff Tarkin spent little time together during the Padawan’s journey, he was a forbidding adversary and deserves a mention. Appointed to take the lead in the creation of the Death Star, Tarkin was feared and revered by members of both the Empire and the Resistance. In proving his might, (spoiler) he used the Death star to destroy Alderaan, later dying along with his command, when the Death Star was destroyed.

7. “Stay on target.” Although Gold Leader Five is infamous for uttering these words, we learn from Luke (Red Five) that it is okay to stay the course and lead from behind. (I suppose that it doesn’t hurt to have the voice of your mentor in your ear during the mission).

8. If at first you don’t succeed… (Spoiler) Some may say that it takes Luke until “Return of the Jedi (episode VI)” to achieve Jedi status (and successfully face his father, Lord Vader). However, his trials are an example of perseverance. 

Join the discussion this May 4thand test your “Star Wars” knowledge. Share the lessons you learned from Luke’s journey while you were looking at leadership.

Johnson_JalinJalin Johnson, Ed.D., is an assistant professor in the Brandman University School of Business and Professional Studies focusing on business and organizational leadership.

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