What Han Solo Can Teach You About Informal Leadership

You have to admit, Han Solo could definitely pull off that leather vest. On top of that, he can teach all of us a thing or three about informal leadership.

We’ve all been in a role one time or another where we weren’t the “formal” leader of the team. We were just another team member trying to contribute to the greater good. Unfortunately, just when the project was going fine, a bunch of imperial stormtroopers and bounty hunters came along and changed the project charter.

The crisis clearly demands leadership. The “formal” leader likely has her hands full trying to get things back on track. If the team sits back and lets the leader lead alone, there’s a chance everything will fall apart (there are a *lot* of stormtroopers involved here).

It’s time for you to step up and lend a hand. Even though you’re not the “formal” leader in this situation, you can have a disproportionately positive impact on the outcome as an informal leader. To do so, you can tear a few pages out of Han Solo’s leadership playbook.

Take Risks

Remember when Luke was making his run on the Death Star and he was about to get toasted by some tie fighters going PEWPEWPEW on him with some lasers? And remember that one right behind him blew up and it was none other than Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon that blasted it?

We thought Solo had bailed. He was in it for himself. But something inside him clicked and he knew he had to risk his butt for a greater cause.

So what does this mean for you? Sure. It’s easy to be on a project team, keep your head down, avoid attention (especially the bad kind), and walk away from a project unscathed.

Or you can see an opportunity to take a chance and fundamentally change the outcome. Sure you have to put your butt on the line, but the effects can be dramatic. Take that risk. Step out of your comfort zone and charge into the fray with an eye toward changing the outcome versus letting the outcome just happen.


…and then there was the time Solo set out on the tauntaun to save Luke’s life (hmmm, I’m seeing a trend with this Luke fella getting himself into predicaments). Luke would have been like a frozen Lean Cuisine for a wampa had Solo not simply made a decision and acted on it.

Han didn’t know what the outcome would be if he acted but he darn well knew what would happen if he didn’t. Fortunately for you Return of the Jedi fans, he saved Luke’s bacon (again) and treated us to an image of a tauntaun sleeping bag (eww).  Weird… this is the second time I’ve used a Hoth reference on this blog.  The first time was in this post on customer service.  Anyway…

I know… I’m talking about acting and Star Wars in the same sentence. Somewhere right now great actors are rolling over in their graves. But I’m talking about another kind of acting: I’m encouraging you to simply take action.

If you can clearly see what will happen if you DON’T act, then the default decision should be to act. Lead by example. Others will follow even if you’re not anointed as the “formal” leader.

Be Direct

Solo is about as subtle as a cinder block to the head (maybe that’s why I like him so much). You always know where you stand with the guy. Greedo knew Han didn’t like him. Chewie knew when Han was upset. Leia knew he didn’t care for her ‘tude. And when it came time for giving orders and letting people/aliens know what to do, Han was the king of giving orders directly.

The implications for you are people respect directness. It can be uncomfortable but very productive.

I just had a very uncomfortable conversation with a colleague. Neither of us wanted to have the chat. Both of us knew we had to. We both clearly laid out our perspectives, highlighted our major issues, and mutually worked to come to a conclusion that satisfied both of us. It was a very open and direct conversation. Sure it was uncomfortable but it saved us tons of agonizing and dancing around the issue.

As a member of the team, you have an obligation to your peers to be direct. They’ll respect you for it. People will know where you’re coming from and where you’re trying to go. When they have clarity on your direction, you might be surprised how many of them want to follow you there. Talk about informal leadership…

The bottom line: be direct, act, and take risks. For crying out loud people – these problems you’re facing aren’t going to solve themselves. And your leader probably has so much on their plate that they’re challenged to make it all happen. They need you. Now. More than ever. Step up.

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

4 Responses to “What Han Solo Can Teach You About Informal Leadership”

  1. Tim Laubacher says:

    Great post.

    When thinking about taking some risks in a team environment, it's helpful to know that you're not on some reality show like The Apprentice where risk takers are fired every week.

    And to me, being direct is important as it allows others to see your motivation. It's difficult to lead when teammates question your motives. Remove all questions by being direct.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Great tactics!

    Though, on occasion I'd like to PEWPEWPEW a few people.

  3. Kathleen Lisson says:

    I agree with being direct, but adding that there is a way to be direct and polite, respectful and offer the other person a way to save face at the same time.
    The goal is success, not embarrassment.

  4. […] When you figure out who your Wookiee is, let them know that.  You should share your assessment with them so they understand what you expect from them and how valuable they are to you as a member of your team.  If you want to expand your Star Wars leadership skills beyond managing a Wookiee, you can read this post about what Han Solo can teach you about leadership. […]

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