At the risk of dating myself, I remember seeing each film of the first Stars Wars trilogy in the theater. One of the things that I found the most interesting (besides all the Jedi powers) was the Death Star. It was this ominous orb that gave me a bit of fearful reverence each time I saw it. It commanded authority and threatened destruction with any form of non-compliance.

As I chatted with a friend about some challenges he was facing at his place of employment, I inadvertently coined the phrase “Death Star Leadership“. It was an all too familiar story of a fear based compliance culture whose mere presence demanded awestruck fear and obedience. Did people really want to be loyal to Darth Vader or were they just afraid of that whole “I’m not touching you” choke thing he liked to do?

The moment things got tough, many of the “loyalists” to the dark side bailed if they had the chance. It’s no different in organizations (one department in my friend’s organization suffered a 50% turnover rate in 2010). If the leadership style is one of command, compliance, and fear of losing chance at promotion (raises, rewards, etc.) then most likely they too will run to the hills when things don’t go very well. Death Star Leadership has no place in a successful organization.

People working in fear cannot make quality decisions. They are set up to fail and then chastised for having done so. Not exactly the image you want associated with your brand, is it? As leaders, we must look beyond process development and understand that, when given the opportunity, people want to contribute quality to something bigger than themselves. As humans, we want to feel like we make a difference. We want to be a contributor, not a problem to be controlled and coerced into compliance.

Let’s stop second guessing the motives of our employees, ditch the Death Star (command & control) Leadership, and begin to foster a culture and environment of trust and appreciation. If these folks are that untrustworthy, why on earth were they hired in the first place? There are bigger problems at play. Be the Chief Instigation Officer in your organization and start a revolution of trust and quality leadership. I guarantee your employees will pleasantly surprise you if given ample opportunity.

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  • Dave

    I really like your post on the Death Star leadership. It really hits home for me, more than you know. For me, the Death Star is the physical realization of the dark side of the Force. Fear is the primary motivator and starting point for the dark side, and I think that applies to the DSL as well. On the other hand, Jedi, like good leaders, have balance and trust. They work with the forces of natures and people for a positive outcome. They look for strengths and find solutions. Anyway, I hope that you can find some Luke Skywalkers to help attack the Darth Star!

  • Another great article with a wonderful analogy; thank you.

    I often present to groups (and blog, but not so eloquently) along similar lines using Dr Who’s Daleks. The inability to control temper before exterminating people leads to the culture of fear that you discuss.

  • Thanks for your thoughts Jon. Great analogy with Daleks, for sure. I appreciate your contribution and ongoing support on Twitter!