Staffing Management

‘Star Wars’ ’ Legacy: Allowing a Force to Awaken Your Workforce

By James Tehrani

Dec. 15, 2015

Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Use this wisely, you must.

In a galaxy, not so far, far away, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read or heard the cliché that good leaders must delegate authority; you can’t do everything yourself.

I don’t deny the soundness of that argument. Most of the time, you should get your staff involved and motivated for the good of the team, the product, the company, the, ahem, multitudinous synergistic possibilities. You can’t do everything, right? True, but in rare cases, I also think there are times when delegation is not necessarily a good thing; it’s better to fly solo. Sometimes vision and creativity trump divvying up duties. It takes only one to fly that X-Wing starfighter — and, no, the droid in the back doesn’t count. That much, at least.George Lucas October 2014

Take “Star Wars,” for instance. In a fascinating interview George Lucas gave American Film magazine in 1977, shortly before the iconic original film captured the imaginations of Jedi junkies everywhere, Lucas  “candidly admits that his problems on ‘Star Wars’ were the result of his chronic inability and unwillingness to delegate authority. He wants to do it all himself — write, direct, produce, supervise, edit, shoot.” He said that even though it took about 900 people to make the film, but one auteur to lead the charge.

What Lucas called “problems” back then, turned out to be advantageous to a franchise that has made an estimated $28 billion and was sold for $4 billion in 2012. It’s no wonder Lucas looks a little like a deer in the headlights in the news release announcing the deal with Disney: His child had grown and left the ranch.

This may be hard for people to believe in 2015, but “Star Wars” was a big gamble back then and not a shoo-in to be an unparalleled, out-of-this-world franchise. It cost a reported $11 million to make then, which sounds like a paltry figure today, but it was a big expense at the time. For context: “Annie Hall,” which won the 1977 Academy Award for Best Picture, cost $4 million to make, but “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” cost $20 million. In fact, the author, Stephen Zito, reveals in the American Film article that Lucas told him that he, the master of the “Star Wars” franchise, suffered from “bouts of exhaustion, depression and disgust” during the making of the film, a process that took four years.

Would “Star Wars” have been a better movie had Lucas delegated more authority? I highly doubt it, unless someone pulled a Jedi mind trick that is. While the technology in that original film looks dated compared with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the latest installment in the series that cost an estimated $200 million to make by the way, the original was jaw-dropping to see in the late ’70s. I should know; I still remember being a youngster mesmerized by the Millennium Falcon traversing the galaxy at “light speed.” Lucas’ attention to detail with the then-state-of-the-art technology at his disposal was exciting to audiences that hadn’t been exposed to the computer-generated imagery that is commonplace today.

When asked about Lucas’ style, John Dykstra who created many of the special effects in the original film, including the famous lightsabers, said in the article, “He is really involved in this movie, he is really attached. He’s hardheaded about stuff, but, if he’s wrong, he’ll change his mind rather than say, ‘I’m the director, I’ve made a decision and that’s it.’ ”

When I saw Lucas speak in 2014 at Chicago Ideas Week (photo above courtesy of Chicago Ideas Week), he was asked to complete a sentence about how he was able to revolutionize movies. “Luck,” he said in a deadpanned manner.

There was no luck involved. It was hard work, caring and, I’m sure, many feathers were ruffled along the way. It also took recognition from “Star Wars’ ” producer Gary Kurtz to get out of Lucas’ way. Even if the two would later become estranged, at the time they had a vision, Lucas’ vision.

Few employees have the ability, capacity or fortitude to take total control of a project like Lucas did, and 99.9 percent of the time I’d say it’s not a good idea to allow someone to even try. After all, it is possible that a star employee could fail and the company could take a big hit. However, if you have that rare 0.1 percent person in your company, it’s up to you as talent managers to recognize it and give that person the space to create wonderful, innovative products.

So how do you know you have such a person?

I don’t know that I have a good answer, but it’s not hard to spot it if there’s a force inside your workforce.

James Tehrani is the director of content strategy at FlexJobs.

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