May the 4th be with you

Today is Star Wars Day. May 4th has become an annual commemoration of the Star Wars media franchise. “May the Fourth be with you” is a punny take (I do like to jest for the pun of it…) on the Star Wars catchphrase “may the force be with you.”

I don’t dress up on any characters or attend conventions, but I am a Star Wars fan — especially the original trilogy. Some of the other episodes are good, and some are unwatchable. Star Wars is a classic good guys versus bad guys tale based on powerful concepts of mythology identified by Joseph Campbell in his classic book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (click here to read my review of his biography and work).

The Force is a central thread running through the Star Wars stories. The Star Wars website gives this definition, “The Force is a mysterious energy field created by life that binds the galaxy together.”

This is a powerful analogy for the leadership and culture energy fields that bind teams and organizations together. The leadership side of The Force inspires action with a focus on strengths, optimism, hopes, and dreams. Bad bosses — especially bully bosses — can be “Darth Leader,” channeling the dark side of The Force to “motivate” through fear. They accentuate weaknesses and focus on what’s wrong.

The darker forces of “motivation” are illustrated by a Farcus cartoon; a team leader is at the head of a conference table addressing her team with these words, “We need to improve engagement; any of you boneheads have a good idea?” This is a classic example of a bad boss pushing people. This is treating low engagement as a problem to be solved rather than an indicator of much deeper issues. Her approach is like an auto mechanic reporting, “I couldn’t repair your brakes, so I made your horn louder.”

Weak Managers Try Manipulating with Money

We’ve known for decades that lack of money can quickly turn people off, but financial incentives aren’t very effective at turning most people on. Less effective managers see “their people” as coin-operated human resources (assets with skin) to be manipulated with money. In his seminal 1959 book, The Motivation to Work, Psychologist Frederick Herzberg outlined his Motivator-Hygiene Theory. He showed that if we feel we’re not compensated fairly, lack of money can demotivate. But once we feel that we’re treated fairly, the promise of more money doesn’t sustain higher energy and mobilize inspired performance.

Ultimately, the problem is a failure of leadership. When surveys show disengagement and retention problems create staff shortages, weak managers often blame a changing work ethic and ask, “Why don’t people want to work anymore?” But that’s the wrong question, based on the wrong assumptions. The question to ask — with a long gaze in the leadership mirror — is, “Why don’t people want to work here?” It’s often not just about the money.

Jake, a busker, walked into a bar and saw a crowd gathered around a table. On the table was an overturned pot with a duck doing a lively dance on top. Jake immediately saw the huge potential of this act. He negotiated with the bar owner and agreed to buy the duck and pot for a hefty fee.

Three days later, Jake stormed furiously back into the bar with the duck and pot. “I demand my money back! I gathered a large crowd to watch my street performance, built up their anticipation, placed the pot in front of them, and put the duck on it. It just sat there and wouldn’t dance a single step!”

The bar owner asked, “Did you light the candle under the pot?”

Are you that boss? Stop Bribing and Start Leading features a chart on the difference between Manipulative Management and Empartnering Leadership. Which approach do you mostly use? You might use our 10-point checklist for a quick leadership checkup.

Of course, the problem with self-assessments is they don’t correlate very well with an effective 360 assessment (many lead to a feedback death spiral). Zenger Folkman’s 20 years of research assessing 150,000 leaders shows self-assessment only align with other raters’ assessment of the leader’s effectiveness 50% of the time.

In Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek, writes, “there are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it, or you can inspire it.” Many managers try to “motivate” or push people by lighting a fire under them. But we really can’t motivate anyone. Motivation is an inside job. Effective leaders stoke the fire within. Managers try to force; leaders use The Force — of inspiring leadership.