Corporate Hacks From The Series : The Mandalorian

Star Wars undeniably, will eternally hold a special part in our hearts, minds and souls as a species (okay, I may have taken this a step romantic here, but forgive me, it just feels good to say it). If you are a fan, needless to explain, if you are yet to watch a movie or any of the series related to it, you are strongly encouraged to do so.

As a kid, what took my imagination the most is the conflict between Jedi and Sith. Later on, it was the mythos of the Force. Eventually, as age caught up with me, the interest shifted to the characters–their lives, history, struggles and personal take in the great divide between universal freedom or monocratic despotic rule.

This blog, however, is not about any of that. This is about the latest addition the great epic tale, that had been faciltated by Disney since its purchase of the franchise. This time, as interesting as it is to talk about the old accepted cannonical story line, we will digress to glean lessons, corporate lessons, to be exact, from the series, The Mandalorian.

The Mandalorian is an American space Western television series created by Jon Favreau for the streaming service Disney+. It is the first live-action series in the Star Wars franchise, beginning five years after the events of Return of the Jedi (1983). It stars Pedro Pascal as the title character, a lone bounty hunter who goes on the run after being hired to retrieve “The Child“. The Mandalorian premiered with the launch of Disney+ on November 12, 2019. The eight-episode first season was met with positive reviews, was nominated for Outstanding Drama Series at the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards, and won seven Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards. A second season premiered on October 30, 2020, and a third season is in pre-production. (Wikipedia)

I have managed to find three corporate lessons from the series, that hopefully, will be helpful in a fun way.

Lesson 1 : Teamwork Needs A Just Cause

Bounty hunting is not a job that invites teamwork. It is dangerous business, and the level of risk goes ultrahazardous the more people are involved. While we can surmise, that Mandalorians, are not necessarily raised to be bounty hunters, their preference for solitude is evident,too. In the series, we see them operate alone, even when there are still a handful left of them after the destruction of Mandalore.

In Chapter 7, of Season 1, titled The Reckoning, however, we see that individuals, equally distrusting of each other, with differing agenda, experience, background and ethnicity/race can organically come together as a team.

This episode showed us how a rebel-fighter-turned-mercenary, Cara Dune and a former Imperialist, Kuiil living in solitude to enjoy his freedom and repay his faults from his association with the Galactic empire, enemies at best, work together in helping Mando and Grogu ( (the little Yoda-looking Padawan). This is revolutionary. Teams of today do not have to come from the same background as Cara and Kuiil, we do not have to be and will never be from opposing sides of an intergalactic war, but we face the same challenges of teamwork, trust, effectiveness, efficiency and fulfilment.

We have a skewed understanding of teamwork. The corporate world had misunderstood collaboration, cooperation and coordination as teamwork, whereas, these are all its component, teamwork is something more. Teamwork, is about people working for each other and together. It is about understanding our individual goals, perspective for success, difference and competencies acceptingly, compensating, adjusting in a safe environment of trust, mutual success and shared responsibility should the enterprise fail.

Leaders of today, must learn how Mando gathered his team–they must have something greater than financial goals, a task or an objective, they must have harken everyone to a just cause, an ideal, a sense of a terminal goal that will inspire, motivate and drive individuals to the pinnacle of human attainment–self-actualization.

In the case of Cara, Kuiil and Mando the just cause was not complicated. They gathered amidst their differences with the knowledge of certain doom, to protect Grogu and ensure his safety. Simple, yet potent enought to allow them to bridge wide divides of differences and for Quiil to give up his life.

Today, we do not have to protect anyone in our corporate settings, but we all have someone or something dear to us. Our families, dreams, aspirations and the search for meaning are seldom spoken, but are the actual motivating factors of our actions. These and many more that are actually unrelated to perks, salary and financial stability–should be the just cause, if the coporate setting is to create a team such as the motley crew of Cara, Quill and Mando.

Lesson 2 : People Can Suprise Us, If We Let Them

In the same Chapter, we see Mando vehemently protesting the company of the IG-11, that Kuiil had reprogrammed. Other than it was the same machine Mando downed to save Grogu, he has a particular prejudice over machines. Several times, he had doubted IG-11, only taking Kuiil’s word, that it has now changed.

More than we care to admit, we have similar predespositions with the people we work for. Not necessarily, that we had either a bad experience with them in the past, but perhaps, our collective experience had just trained us to take things with a grain of salt and people with mistrust.

It will do us well to remember, that after Kuiil died and the Cara, Mando and Karga where in no position to save Grogu, it was IG-11 who secured its safety. The most distrusted, turns out to be the most reliable. Ultimately, in a scene that was quite emotional, IG-11, made the ultimate sacrifice for Grogu and the team. In their attempt to escape the myriad of Empire troops and with no hope of fighting them successful, IG-11 did something, that only creatures with a heart and soul will do. He sacrificed his life, by detonating his self-destruct protocol, only after he had waded through thick lava and ensuring that Grogu, Mando, Cara and Greef were safe.

In coporate settings of today, where deadlines are always urgent, tasks oversimplified amidst its complications and challenges require upskill almost without preparation–it is too easy to judge the competency of a colleague, a teammate, based on how they adapt to the tides. A failure, miss or oversight, can easily be calculated as incompetence and lead to doubts. Leaders and teammates of today’s corporate world, can learn from the experience of Mando, who was disproven, in the most heartbreaking of ways by IG-11, by doing what he believed it can never do–change.

While IG-11 was repogrammed from a total package of destruction to a nurturing and protective robot, we too, have to believe that our colleagues, while not necessarily, reprogrammable by codes, can turn around by how collectively we make them feel safe, integrated, valued and a part of a greater purpose in the success of the team.

Lesson 3 : Leadership Is Influenced By The Culture Of Organizations

Today, Leadership comes together with the role and the title. Not, that this is wrong, a manager must have the leadership skills, if one is to help an enterprise succeed. A leader, likewise, will need to employ managerial techniques, for one to be effective and efficient. In the perfect balance of this is where the success of the team is hinged. Presumably, with the volumes of books written by experts, gurus and industry titans there should nothing more to be added on the recipe.

The Empire is not that different from any organizations. It has the infastructure, chain of command and employee network that make is operate exactly from how companies of today operate. Though, the financial capabilities of the Empire is not something we are privy to in the series of the movies, we can safely say that to employ such vast network or talent, manpower and technology will induce cost.

On the topic of leadership and using the Empire structure as an example, we are introduced to Moff Gideon, who also happens to be the main antagonist of the story. A ruthlessly effective, efficient and calculating task master, whose determination, drive and aim was solely to secure Grogu, for whatever reason it is that he has for the Padawan. All of those in corporate leadership roles would scream foul just thinking about what Moff had and is willing to do to complete his objective, as we all certainly would. It is not far, however, for any of the leaders of today to be like Moff, and perhaps, we all, at some point had operated like he did, outside the realm of our conscious–merely justified by some leadership or business dogma.

See, Moff, as portrayed in the series, was obviously a bad person. He was an Emperial officer and for all we know, the empire seeks to dominate the universe under the rule of Sith, which are a bunch of dark, despotic and cruel force-weilders. This is, however, a one-sided take on things, to dare say.

If it were, in the Star Wars universe, a truly general fact that the Sith and the Empire is awful, how could they have troops, line managers and supporters? Some of them even, willing to fight and give up their lives in battle for the Empire. The Mandalorian was set at a time after the fall of the Empire, it is like, when an organization went bankrupt, but people still choose to work for it scenario. Surely, the opinion around the Empire being the epitome of evil, was subject to debate and perspective in that universe. So, along the same argument, we can say, that Moff, was operating and leading his team, not in the mainstream idea of leadership, as so we see it, but around the culture of the organization he was employed or aligned to.

And so, we can condemn Moff for his evil deeds and claim, we shall never be like him, but truth be said, we had been Moff’s at some point, hopefully not too often. That employee who requested a leave for some family event that we talked out, becuase we need them, that vacation leave where we still called colleagues because we needed something, that wedding we never even gave the employee time to enjoy or that sick day, where the employee had to check a roster of possible ailments as an excuse, because they cannot tell us, they are just stressed and needed some sanity break because they obviously believe and think we will not allow it. These are, but a few of our Moff moments. How rewarded and fulfilled we must have felt, when we had to convince folks to be like us, operate in the same manner and think like us in these times, when we obviously truly do not understand their personal struggles and perhaps we do, only at a perspective of our own and aligned to the need of the enterpise. Yes, we had been Moff’s at some point.

Organizations of today have a choice. To mould immensely successfuly Moff Gideon’s based on the culture of the Galactic Empire ran by the Sith, or to have a heart and allow people to be people like the Bounty Hunter’s Guild of Greef Karga. Leaders have a responsibility to their people. Something, Moff Gideon, while definitely a leader in his own right, may have initially reluctantly chosen to overlook this responsibility, until eventually, slowly, yet surely, he had mastered the art of disregarding it for the high of the next mission, promotion of completion of task, objective and goal.

21st century leadership will continue, hopefully not, down the path of the Empire, lest leaders of today, consciously choose to veer away from operating under the same playbook for success and leadership as Moff Gideon. Leaders of today, are primarily leaders of the people in their care, before employees of the corporations, not the other way around. Until , this becomes the new playbook, we should all stop watching Star Wars in support of the Jedi and tattoo the Galactic Empire’s logo on our bodies.

May The Force Be With You!

Leadership Hacks from Erwin Smith (Attack on Titans)

It was somewhere around 2014 when a young, impressionable, lost and confused me, found an article on Forbes that will shape the way I will view motion pictures since.

I always knew that movies were communicating something, but never had I imagined so much wisdom drawn out from such references like Star Trek, Batman and Star Wars. It was so unique , so insightful–that I spent the night reconsidering almost every movie I had seen.

The theme of the articles were primarily about leadership which I appreciated to a certain extent,

I was in organizational development at that time, but it was only in later years that the true meaning of it made so much practical sense. At that time at least at a theoritical and conceptual standpoint I understood the information being shared, but it was not until six long years that the words came to life and with some powerful resonance.

Regardless of what industry you work for or the number of people in your team, the concept of good leadership is universal. Somehow it is intrinsically embedded in our psyche and closely linked to our own internal compass to determine what good leadership looks like and what phony is. The situations, decisions and growing pains any leader will have to hurdle are, and I am making a controversial claim here, equally important, challenging and life-defining.

So, you may not be fighting Titans in a fictional world like Erwin Smith is, but we can all certainly draw lessons from his leadership. For this piece, I had gleaned three leadership lessons we can all learn from Erwin Smith, Commander of The Survey Corps.

Erwin Smith, encouraging his Survey Corps through the gesture of giving hearts for the cause

While not all of us had the chance to be tutored by commendable leaders, I have been lucky to be in the care of some for most of my career. Looking back, I did not necessarily have the means to eloquently explain why I felt so, until recently. Not more than five years ago, I started having a team in my care and truthfully, you will always think you had it in the bag until it starts swallowing you from the ground up. I will not be ashamed to state that you will have moments of confidence, then doubts and ultimately confusion. You were of course, good at what you do, but how do you influence other people. How did you get influenced by those who led your team?

The question seemed so easy, but not everything that is based on human perception is black and white and can be easily explained. The accessibility of leadership videos, books and schools of thought, organizations and institutions will feed you that it is unthinkable for young leaders to not hit the ground running. Leadership, however, at least for me, was not something that can be learned through study, training or formal education alone and I never hit the ground running, not closely nor without pains. It is an acquired taste, fermented by experience and seasoned with time. A daunting task, of which, you have all the resources, but so few certainties.

If there is any great example of leadership we can all learn from, perhaps it can be from Erwin. With all certainty, leading people to fight against gigantic human-eating monsters is no easy task. How did Erwin do it?

Lesson 1: Leaders Lead

In Season 3, Part 2, Episode 54, titled “Hero”, Erwin leads a suicidal attack against one of the nine Titans. As leaders, we may not necessarily need to lead a head on attack that leads to certain death, but we have every opportunity to lead those in our care towards success. Those in our care expect us to bite the dust first, take the first hit, should anything go wrong and lead on. Of course, those words are quite morbid still, but what is implied is that in all levels of leadership, small or large following–leaders have the responsibility, privilege and obligation to not just go first, but take the lead. If we had instances where we had to throw people, other departments or the system under the bus, we can learn so much from how Erwin has focused all his energies around making his corps succeed amidst similar if not more complicated and corrupt inner workings.

Lesson 2: Leaders Inspire

In the corporate world of today, the competency of leadership had been measured by performance. Had Erwin been an employee of today, he would have been fired a long time ago. The series indicates that the Survey Corps has never been the choice of graduating cadets due to its high attrition, high effort and low success rate. In fact, they were so unpopular that they could barely remember having the people send them off for a long time. Before the discover of Eren’s powers, the corps had nothing, but failures on the record.

Still, you will find really powerful and smart individuals, like Levi and Hanji stick with Erwin. Translate that to employees of today who move out upon sensing that the team they are part of is not popular or difficult and they will start moving out, transferring to another team or worse resign. So how then, does Erwin retain top talent, those who we can certainly consider as the best in the realm? Inspiration.

Erwin, like all great leaders is grounded on a core belief, that even the most dire of consequences and ends cannot shake. He builds his action plans around that core belief and moves around it when necessary. That alone is inspiring. We all want to believe in something, but many of us doubt that belief and eventually just go with the bandwagon. Seeing someone firmly believe in something even unto death is remarkably charismatic.

Lesson 3: Leaders Define Success

Talking about the corps failures and Erwin totally not passing his probation in the real world makes us curious how he still holds much influence even to successfully convince people to his side on a coup de’t tat. In today’s jobs, requesting for more funds, resources or support from the organisations becomes a little steep if you had too little success to show and all the more to get the sentiment and support of other departments.

So how then did Erwin still have the ears of the other Commanders? While all the others thought of practical applications to their force, he anchored the success of the corps to an ideology. While many will argue this to be detrimental to business, which can actually bet true, the Survey Corps did not have really much of a choice. They were tasked to do what no one had done and that by definition kind of categorizes that task between improbable leaning more on impossible.

Erwin knew that the conventional meaning of success would only drag the sentiment of people and the morale of his soliders, so he had to define success differently. Every person inside the walls knew that it was nearly, if not totally impossible for humanity to venture out the walls, but he knew everyone dreamt of being out. That intrinsic human quality to hope was all that Erwin needed to continually rekindle to make his corps relevant and keep the confidence of his people and his influence amongst the higher-ups.

You may lose your job if you do so today, but then again, young leaders of today are not tasked to survey fields at the risk of being eaten. We all sit comfortably at our stations with proper ventilation and fast computers, so there really is no excuse to settle down the basic goals of our key performance indicators and tie up success to an ideal state where one does not need to be afraid with perfection, because none had achieved it yet.

Leaders have a huge responsibility. Your decisions and better judgment do not just impact the team, organisation and business. It also directly affects the lives of the people in your care, which ultimately sums up to an obligation to humanity and its betterment, especially in the years to come post COVID-19.