Leadership Matters
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Five ways to be a Rebel Leader in the boardroom

By David Solot, Ph.D.


A lot of things come to mind when people think about Han Solo – gambler, smuggler, scoundrel. Yet this all-time favourite Star Wars character doesn’t usually get credit for one of his greatest strengths – leadership.

With the global business climate in a now-constant state of flux, it’s time to rethink some classic views on leadership. Han Solo exemplifies some of the essential characteristics of a modern leader. Here’s how he does it and how any leader can be the next Rebel Leader in the boardroom.


Be flexible and adaptable

Solo is a master of flexibility. When Luke Skywalker is trapped in the frozen wastelands of Hoth and Solo’s tauntaun dies from the cold, Solo immediately changes tactics. He uses the tauntaun to keep Skywalker warm and gets a shelter built to ride it out until morning. When he leads the rescue of Princess Leia on the Death Star, he calmly grabs the commlink and bluffs the Imperial troops by pretending there’s a reactor leak.

In business, no matter how good a strategic plan may be, leaders will be called on to change it. That’s the nature of a constantly changing business environment. A Rebel Leader doesn’t cling to a plan that is failing – they change direction and find a new path to success (preferably one that takes less than 12 parsecs).


Take risks

Everyone loves Solo for the big risks that he takes and how they pay off for the Rebels.

Solo has plenty of opportunities to take his shots and he takes them every time. He hung the Millennium Falcon off the side of a Star Destroyer to escape detection. He led a strike team to Endor in a stolen Imperial shuttle, using a clearance code that might not work.

In today’s business environment, industries are being disrupted at a never before seen rate. Innovation is essential for companies to survive. Leaders have to take chances on new products, new services and new business models if they want their companies to continue to thrive. It is true many folks don’t want a leader who will do the equivalent of flying into an asteroid field or parking inside a space worm, but innovation requires a high degree of risk taking and leaders who bring out their inner Han Solo are more willing to take those chances.

Actor Harrison Ford at the Star Wars: The Force Awakens premiere in 2015

Shoot first

Could there be a better example of Han Solo being decisive than when he shot Greedo in the cantina? In a life or death situation, Solo let the situation play out only until he was sure of his options. Then, when he knew it was time to decide, he committed to a course of action and pulled the trigger.

Think about how strongly fans of Star Wars reacted when George Lucas suggested that Solo didn’t shoot first. Fans were outraged at the idea that he didn’t take charge of the situation. Everyone wanted to think of Solo as decisive and ready to act. It’s a core part of his personality and one of the big reasons he is so loved.

Now, no one is advocating for blasters in the boardroom! But there is a real desire to have a leader who doesn’t wait until it’s too late to take action. One of the chief complaints that employees have about the C-suite is lack of clarity around strategic direction. When leaders are decisive like Han Solo, they find that their employees are more eager to follow their lead. Just don’t forget about what was said about being flexible as well!


Keep cool

Solo has that hard-to-define quality about him that just makes him a “cool guy.” He doesn’t break a sweat when he’s face-to-face with Jabba the Hutt. He and Chewie quickly put the Falcon back together while under fire from the Empire. And, of course, he gets the shield down so the Rebel fleet can go after the second Death Star. Solo has been cool from the first moment audiences met him on screen and that coolness inspires people to follow him.

But daily office meetings don’t involve anything as slick as floating away from a Star Destroyer hidden in with the trash, so how can a modern Rebel Leader emulate that degree of cool in the boardroom? Well, remember that what makes Solo cool in all of these situations is his confidence that he can do it. Remember his quote, “Never tell me the odds?” Solo lets everyone around him know that he can get the job done no matter how hard it seems, and then he follows through.

In the office, leaders need to combine keeping cool with being reliable. When times are hard, employees want to know that their leader has a steady hand on the tiller. Whether their leader feels steady inside or not is irrelevant. The modern Rebel Leader needs to work on projecting confidence and ensuring they don’t drop the ball on their commitments. By adding some Rebel coolness to their day, leaders find that people will want to stay by them during tough times.


Be moral

In every movie, Solo says that he’s just in it for himself; all he wants is the money. But when push comes to shove, audiences see who Solo really is – he’s a hero who is willing to sacrifice it all to do what’s right. He could’ve walked away from the first Death Star battle with all his money, but instead he came back and helped Skywalker evade Darth Vader. He loves the Millennium Falcon, but he let his frenemy Lando Calrissian borrow it for the final fight against the second Death Star. And, of course, he went to try and save his son, even though he knew it could be his end.

Leadership is meaningless without morality. Modern workers (read: Millennials and Generation Xers) want to follow people who inspire them and who want to make a difference in the world. People want the security of knowing that they work for a good person. A defining characteristic of many Millennials is the ability to discern the morality of the people and the company they work for.

Leaders who find their Light Side/Dark Side alignment to be a bit muddy have some work to do. It’s not all about profit anymore. Social responsibility is a key part of running a successful organization and recruiting top talent. These leaders can look for ways to broaden their horizon and engage with the community and employees.

Human resources can look into running charitable programs for the organization, from sponsoring local charities to engaging in fun runs to supporting individual employees in their own charity work. The C-suite can ensure that the overall mission of the organization is altruistic, perhaps by offering reduced or free services to people in need or by participating in industry-wide research.

Leaders who are already on the Light Side are most of the way there and can look for ways to make their morals more evident in their performance. They can continue to support their organizations’ altruistic endeavours and make sure they don’t put too much distance between themselves and their employees.

With the global business landscape forever changed by the Great Recession and Millennials taking their place as the dominant generation, the last vestiges of the Old Republic have been swept away. But this isn’t the time for the Empire or the First Order. It’s the dawn of a new hope for organizations by embracing their Rebel Leader.

David Solot, Ph.D. is an analytics product manager at Caliper.
















Alden Ehrenreich, who plays the part of Han Solo, at the premiere of Solo: A Star Wars Story in May 2018

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