Star Wars: The (work)Force Awakens! (Lessons in Leadership with J.J. Abrams)

Dream job or tough gig? You take on something with a massive legacy. A legacy that spans three and a half decades.  A story that captivated audiences all over the world and continues to do so.

Star Wars is the biggest original movie franchise of all time and with pre-sale tickets now over the $100 million dollar mark the expectation is staggering.

It’s reported that a lot of leaders have imposter syndrome, not feeling they have the skill set or worthiness to do their role justice.  Director J.J. Abrams deals with his position with admirable humility:

“It’s amazing to care about something for so long and then be part of it.” His response on BBC’s “The Secret of Star Wars.”

Leadership lesson: Show you care!

That’s fine but he’s got to deliver on the monumental expectation. He’s got to reflect back respectfully at what’s gone before then move forward.

What’s that like? “It’s a hundred times more stressful than any role (I’ve had) before but…” (says Abrams.) “The crew are amazing, the cast are amazing and that relieves the pressure. Plus the intensity is part of the fun.”

Leadership lessons: Surround yourself with the right people with the right strengths, give them the tools and resource to do what they need to do. Create the conditions to work under positive pressure.

Communication & Feedback:

When visiting the desert set in Abu Dhabi which took 5 months to create upon meeting Alex Darby Unit Location Manager, J.J. said: “I’m speechless, thank you, this is so much, so much more than I expected!” He didn’t know Alex was a ball of nerves at the prospect of meeting him!

Leadership lessons: give genuine thanks and sincere, honest feedback.

One of the challenges in business is that projects go past agreed timescales, over budget and be plagued by multiple issues. So how does JJ keep things on track, motivate, maintain quality and keep expectations high?

“Before every take he would rally the troops and say: stand up straight! Remember you are in Star Wars- this is a privilege!” (Actor: Domhall Gleeson- General Hux.)

“J.J. kept looking for ways to make everyone feel special.” (Actor: Daisy Ridley- Rey.)

“I kept looking for ways to make everything better, funnier, striking or more shocking or exciting. Always looking for ways to serve the characters.” J.J. Abrams

So the final leadership lesson here is about continuous improvement, looking for ways to create more opportunity!

This blog is based on interviews featured in the BBC Documentary “The Secret of Star Wars”

What do you think about JJ’s leadership methods? What else is important would you say? Is the film going to live up to the hype?

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