What has Star Wars taught us about surviving office politics? Have you ever wondered why all those guys (and girls) in a galaxy far, far away made a conscious decision to serve the Empire, to essentially join the dark side? They can’t be all bad, can they?
I’ll admit, they have some attractive uniforms and a cool logo. Besides, with all the resources at their disposal, it’s probably safe to assume they offer some nice job perks.
Working for the Empire also likely includes regular promotions, good health insurance, and a solid pension plan.
The Empire almost certainly has a pretty good marketing department that puts a lot of effort into maintaining and improving their brand equity. But, is everything really as perfect as they portray in their brochures, promotional videos, and press releases?
On the other side of the coin, is every person in the Rebel Alliance a perfect team player and all-around magnanimous person willing to work for next to nothing because the cause is so great?
The politics in every organization
It should come as no surprise that, in an organization as large and complex as the Empire, there exists a lot of petty squabbling, back stabbing, and generally malicious behavior. In a moment, we’ll take a closer look at some examples.
However, it shouldn’t surprise you either to know that even a small, well-run organization with altruistic intentions, such as the Rebel Alliance, can also be rife with the picayune shenanigans that have come to be known as office politics.
You’re pretty short for a Storm Trooper
Let’s just go ahead and start with the elephant in the room. The Empire clearly has a problem with diversity. They quite literally want clones to fill positions across a large portion of their organization.
Wasn’t it Einstein who once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?
An entirely homogenous workforce is always going to approach situations and problem solving in the same way. Seriously, when was the last time anyone saw Storm Troopers try to resolve a situation without blaster fire?
The Empire should be aware that organizations flourish when they truly seek out diversity. It can present some challenges, but the benefits are well worth it.
Of course, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. The Rebel Alliance has taken diversity to an extreme without considering how to make it sustainable. Their organization is so diverse that they literally cannot even communicate with each other.
It can be incredibly frustrating attempting to put together a task force when half the time must be spent figuring out what the other guy is even trying to say. The loss in overall productivity must be immense.
Is the Rebellion so strapped for cash that they can’t spring for a few after-work sessions in understanding Wookie?
The lesson for our intrepid rebellious friends here is not that too much diversity is bad. It’s extremely beneficial, but it requires continuous investment and care. The Rebellion can’t just use it to check off a few boxes on their employment statistics survey.
I find your lack of faith disturbing
Office politics are not something solely dictated by company policy however. The politics grow out of an organization’s culture, which plays out in day to day in meetings, interactions with coworkers, and the accepted (or unaccepted) behavior of individuals.
Meetings are a great example. What’s the point of having a meeting if the boss really doesn’t want to hear alternative ideas or opposing points of view?
If it’s just going to end up with participants sitting there feeling like the life is being squeezed out of them, is it a productive way to spend their time? Bosses like Darth Vader are typical for this kind of behavior. They say the right things, but don’t really mean it. They cut people off at the first sign of resistance and say something about “finding your lack of faith disturbing.”
Truly open discussion has to be practiced and promoted on a regular basis in order to build it into the organization’s culture.
But, it’s not just bosses that can cause problems. There are also some pretty disruptive participants that can hijack meetings.
Luke Skywalker certainly got off on the wrong foot with his new colleagues during his first meeting. He might be able to sense the Force, but needs to learn to read a room before shouting out some random observations in a vain attempt to score points with attractive members of upper management. He’s wasn’t really helping either.
They’re trying figure out how to overcome an apparently insurmountable problem only to get these comments from the peanut gallery. “It’s not that hard, I used to bullseye womp rats in my T-16 back home. They’re not much bigger than two meters.”
Hmmm. Let’s see. We’re not in Beggars Canyon; it’s not a womp rat; we’re not using T-16s; we have to use proton torpedoes; somebody will be shooting at us; and we’re kinda pressed for time on this one.
“Yeah, well, uhhh, thank you for your input. Anyway, as I was saying…”
I have a bad feeling about this.
Expectation management, a very important skill in the workplace, is also related to office politics in the form of two very simple tenets.
First, always act with integrity. Second, always help your boss to look good.
If you’re honest in your dealings with everyone and in your appraisal of situations, and you also help your boss to shine by keeping him or her informed and assist when- and wherever possible, you’ll find it much easier to gain acceptance when taking risks and in dealing with challenges.
This is where the Empire and the Rebel Alliance really differ.
Consider the masterful mess that led to the destruction of the first Death Star. Seriously, the Empire goes through all the trouble to capture the princess who stole the plans to their secret space station, and what happens next?
Lord Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin decide to let her go and use a homing beacon to track her back to her secret base. Rather than tell the boss about it so that they can mitigate any potential risk and possibly account for aspects they might not have considered, they’re out looking for personal glory.
In the immortal words of the soon-to-be-dead Grand Moff Tarkin, “I’m taking an awful risk, Vader. This had better work.” – and… it didn’t.
Losing a Death Star didn’t exactly put the big boss in the best light either. Good luck hiding that budget item from an audit.
On the other hand, members of the Rebel Alliance spend half their time telling each other that they have a bad feeling about this, that, and the other.
It’s not that they are always trying to downplay expectations or always being pessimistic. They simply trust each other and feel comfortable giving honest assessments of their alarmingly frequent grim predicaments.
This kind of integrity and trust is essential in crisis situations. When Admiral Ackbar starts yelling something about a trap, everyone stays focused on the greater goal and doesn’t just start looking for ways to save their own skin.
Managing expectations comes from trust and that comes from always being honest. It’s also an all or nothing proposition. An organization cannot demand honesty and trust without reciprocating – a lesson that Lando Calrissian clearly needed to learn.
Who sells out their friends and is then surprised when the deal gets altered?
Even scoundrels can have integrity though. Han Solo stated right from the beginning, “Look, I ain’t in this for your revolution, and I’m not in it for you, Princess. I expect to be well paid. I’m in it for the money.”
I’d call that some pretty clear expectation management.
I’d just as soon kiss a Wookie
If there is one aspect of office politics that is on display across the struggle for galactic supremacy, it’s interpersonal relationships.
There are clearly some inappropriate levels of intimacy, nepotism, temper tantrums, and prejudice occurring in the workplace.
It’s one thing to kiss your sister (also a bad idea), but it’s entirely unacceptable to actively promote nepotism while plotting to remove your boss from his position so that you and your son can rule the galaxy together. I refer you to the earlier section on integrity and making your boss look good.
These are obvious examples of some pretty questionable behavior. However, there are lots of little examples from which we can learn a thing or two as well.
For example, it’s bad form to fire somebody on the spot and simultaneously promote his successor in front of everyone. It’s bad for moral and leads to a feeling of extremely limited job security. This can obviously have a negative impact on overall job performance across the organization.
I’m sure Admiral Piett (previously Captain Piett) could tell you all about this after he ordered his men to remove Admiral Ozzel’s body from the bridge. I’m also pretty sure he was equally surprised to learn that telekinetic choking was also possible via video conference.
Another example of behavior to avoid is associating too much with negative people. Think of it like joining the Dark Side.
They give you advice like, “Give in to your anger. With each passing moment, you make yourself more my servant.”
This doesn’t sound very positive, and maintaining a positive outlook very much helps when interacting with coworkers
I suppose, in this case, there is a simple rule. Carefully consider taking advice from guys who wear lots of black all the time. All this negative influence rubs off. It wasn’t too long before Luke showed up in all black as well, and look how that nearly turned out.
That being said, another lesson would be to not judge people by appearances. Ewoks might have a thing or two to say about that.
Yoda probably put it best, if not a bit convoluted. “Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not.”
These are not the droids you’re looking for
Another issue to seems to crop up with some regularity is appropriate ways of dealing with confrontation in the work place. Obi Wan Kenobi is a real (Jedi) master when it comes to this. Rather than looking for a fight all the time, he approaches things from the perspective of de-escalation. However, people often mistake congeniality for weakness. Really successful people have all discovered that the opposite is true, and Ponda Baba should have really accepted that offer for a drink at the bar.
“Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.”
So, as Yoda was saying, behind every bully is an insecure, spoiled brat looking for ways to make other people feel just a bad in order to build themselves up. Don’t be like them.
So what have we learned?
I hope that we have touched on a few valuable points related to avoiding some of the pitfalls of office politics. There are most certainly more examples.
If you happen to think of some, please feel free to include them in the comments below. Also, I hear there is apparently a new Star Wars film from which we can maybe get a few more lessons.
Maybe I’ll go rogue by taking the afternoon off work to go see it.