I have a confession to make: when I was nine I was teased at school by a boy who called me Yoda. If you remember the very small, chunky character in the Star War series, you will understand my mortification. Yoda was green, bald and had lots of white hair surrounding his pointy ears. Little did I know, however, that this boy would turn out to be quite right about me. Lucky for me, I haven’t turned green (yet!) and I’ve grown to be an average size woman with hairless, normally sized ears. But I do train many CEO warriors in the arts of leadership, business wars and how to optimize their own instincts.
In short, it’s hilariously similar to Yoda’s job as trainer of the revered Jedi warriors. He taught them how to feel “the Force” in order to succeed in battle by moving with it. Now, what “the Force” means to each one of us is a very tricky question, and most of us don’t dare confess our deepest notions about it. According to master Yoda, “My ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is. Life greets it. Makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us…. You must feel the Force around you, between you, me, the rock, everywhere.” To some the Force is of divine nature, not of this world.
To others randomness and luck explain everything, making secret lucky socks critical to sportsmen and stockbrokers. Several traditions speak of the role of destiny in our lives, and scientists, well…scientists don’t believe in anything that is not scientifically proven, do they? What’s funny, though, is we all believe in something. One of my favorite neuroscience stories is the study on mystical experience performed by Canadian psychologist Michael Persinger in the eighties. When he stimulated individuals’ right temporal lobe, they felt the presence of divine beings matching their cultural and religious beliefs. Agnostic subjects, strong disbelievers of any form of religion, felt they were being abducted by aliens!
So let’s agree to disagree. Let us each explain “the Force” that moves things in our world in our own private way. And let us move on to Master Yoda’s real point. Our accuracy as leaders depends on our ability to predict how things will move in our markets and industries. Without a deep felt understanding of what moves people and organizations to act, we can’t build a vision to guide our teams through economic turmoil, financial uncertainty and unforeseen disasters.
As Yoda tells his pupils, “You will know good from bad when you are calm, at peace”. Knowing what to do is not so much about having plenty of information and analyst rankings. How many of them actually predicted the fall of Lehman brothers and the unprecedented worldwide financial storm that followed? Did any? “You must unlearn what you have learned” Yoda would say. Knowing what to do is about feeling in your gut what rings true.
Our problem is, we live in the era of knowledge, science and information. We are insistently taught to ignore our feelings, distrust our bodies and control our emotions. Decades of schooling, armies of consultants, and long shelves of intellectual books have been drilling us to think like robots since we can remember. To the point that many of us have forgotten what it is to feel calm and at peace about a huge business decision. In the world of Yoda, Star Wars and Jedi warriors, we might all be dead by now. While I don’t have my clients carry me around sticky forests and mossy lagoons in physically extenuating workouts, I do help them focus their attention on what matters in their business context.
The most important generator of your professional challenges is you. What you do and what you don’t do have a fundamental impact on the entire organization you lead, for a start. What you look at, and more importantly, what you try not to look at, can mean the difference between a curve of growth and a spiral of defeat. Once again internet-driven speed is a dangerous game of distraction from ourselves and how we impact other people with our doubts, our fears and all the other stuff we try to hide about who we are. The first step to accurate leadership vision is time, calm and peace. The second step is accurate focus of our attention and thoughts on what is happening now, instead of what might go down tomorrow. The third step is to stop hiding from ourselves: Stop avoiding our pains and stop making up intellectual justifications for our past mistakes.
When we join the dots between our past actions and their impact on the world we begin to feel “the Force” Yoda talked about. We start to understand how everything connects to everything else in subtle, slow-moving, almost imperceptible ways. I like to say that we need to evolve from leaders of trash to warriors of the wild. Much unnecessary trash is generated by this mindless, visionless speed to be better, richer, more popular than others.
We only stop repeating stupid mistakes, and spreading trash, when we dare to look at ourselves as we really are. This is when we discover all those wild, ineffable sensations, emotions and impulses which, ironically, are designed to keep us connected to the world, “the Force” and the Wild Natural planet. Like Luck Skywalker, many of my clients complain that “it’s impossible. I can’t. It’s too big. I can’t believe it”. And like Yoda, I find myself replying “That is why you fail” or “there is no why. Clearly you like questions”.
There’s nothing easy about focusing our attention on our wilder selves and learning to manage the intensity of our own unbridled emotion. It’s a path for enduring warriors to finally become heros, admired –and followed– by all. But without connection to our wilder heart and guts, our leadership vision is worthless. Paper nobody actually reads. Stacks of slides that get longer and include more data tables the more we hide. Intellectual blabber that inevitably disconnects from reality, leading our teams to destruction by fantasy.
“May the Force be with you”, as Yoda would say. When you feel it, you know good from bad, calm serenity grounds you, and nobody can prove you wrong. Trust me: “I kid you not!” 😉