Leadership | January 4, 2016

5 Fatal Flaws of Darth Vader’s Management Style

Maybe you’ve heard of a small independent film called Star Wars: The Force Awakens that was released this holiday season? It is the continuation of the original Star Wars Trilogy, which featured the incomparable villain Darth Vader, a high-level management type in the Galactic Empire, whose mission was to eradicate the small band of rebels threatening his oppressive iron grip on the galaxy.

May Remorse Be With You

If you’re with me this far then you already know that Darth Vader fails his mission by allowing the rebels to destroy the evil Emperor Palpatine’s Death Star space station not once, but twice over the course of the three original films, with no small thanks to Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia the mysterious Force, and a green toad-wizard named Yoda.

The new Star Wars movie gives us a great opportunity to take a look back at the management decisions that did wonders for making Darth Vader feared and respected around the galaxy, but only “masked” his complete failure as an administrator, eventually leading to the downfall of his entire organization. Here are five fatal flaws of Darth Vader’s management style that we could all take a lesson from:

  1. Poor communication skills – He neglects to inform his staff of important events and happenings. In the beginning of Return of the Jedi he arrives at the second Death Star to check on construction progress, where he informs a fidgety commander that the Emperor will be arriving for a performance review. The commander is understandably vexed and asks for more workers, which he is promptly denied. Maybe if Vader had sent an email ahead of time just giving a heads up there would be less panic and fear when the news drops, and there would be no need for the added stress. Just saying!
  2. Unable to take criticism – For the life of him, Darth Vader cannot take an ounce criticism. It’s most apparent in the original Star Wars when a roundtable of Imperial officers is deciding what to do with the captured Princess. One officer makes the point that for all his talk Vader still has not recovered the stolen Death Star plans. Instead of taking the note, Vader Force-chokes him in front of everyone. He would have fared better with a simple “That’s a good point Craig, I’ll try to focus more on the task at hand.” The ability to take criticism on the chin and improve is the difference between a thriving Death Star and a blown-up Death Star.
  3. Zero tolerance for mistakes – Mistakes happen, but Darth Vader exhibits poor leadership when he treats them as unacceptable. Case in point: during Empire Strikes Back, while attacking the rebel base on Hoth, he is dismayed to find out that his number one guy Admiral Ozzel dropped out of hyperspace too close to the planet, alerting the rebels to their presence. What does he do almost immediately? You guessed it, he Force-chokes the guy in front of everyone. A more sensible manager would calmly explain that mistakes happen, support the employee, and work quickly to correct the problem.
  4. Moving goalposts – When he’s not busy demotivating staff at home, you can usually find Lord Vader mismanaging the interests of the Galactic Empire abroad. In Empire Strikes Back he negotiates a deal with Lando Calrissian, the Mayor of Cloud City: bring Luke Skywalker to him, and he will let Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, and the droids stay in Cloud City under Lando’s supervision. However, as the deal plays out Vader moves the goalposts, first by giving away Solo to the bounty hunter Boba Fett, before eventually deciding to just go back on the whole deal and take all the prisoners with him. Do this with your employees and they may begin to share Lando’s chief lament: “This deal is getting worse all the time!”
  5. Lack of emotional intelligence – As you might have gathered, Lord Vader has a temper problem, and his employees bear the brunt of his frustrations. The man loves to Force-choke folks who don’t fall in line, usually right in front of their peers. I don’t have to tell you how this must have demotivated his staff, or why it’s not a good idea. You can’t go around Force-choking everything when you don’t get your way. When your top manager can’t control his emotions, it’s no wonder you can’t keep a Death Star together for more than a few months.

The Light Side

So I think we’ve all learned a valued lesson here today: don’t manage your employees like Darth Vader. In fact, don’t go with his social strategy at all, the man is half-machine and twisted by the dark side. Stay on the light side, and you can bring employee engagement to a galaxy not so far away. Thanks for reading, may the Force be with you, and so on.

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