By MARK LOVATT
We all know the story. Young Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars: brilliant, precocious and idealistic, but ends up as a force for evil. Born into reduced circumstances, he is adopted by a powerful organisation working for the good of the galaxy and is trained to the highest level.
His potential is clear, and he is recognised and lauded as a potentially great leader, the Chosen One (or if it was football, the Special One). All goes well until he hits a point of crisis when everything he treasured is threatened.
In desperation, he turns to a former friend and confidant, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, who promises him the help that he needs. All is not as it appears to be though, and Palpatine (secretly the Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Sidious) draws him over to the dark side, resulting in Anakin’s corruption, his betrayal of the Jedi, and ultimately the destruction of all that he holds dear.
As a consequence of his actions, he emerges as the cyborg Darth Vader, and for two decades, perpetrates evil on a galactic scale in the service of the new Emperor Sidious. With the Emperor, he ends up meeting his own son, Luke Skywalker, and tries to convince him to join him on the dark side.
Luke refuses, at which point the Emperor tries to kill him, but Darth Vader intervenes and sacrifices his own life to save Luke. Finally, father and son are reunited and Anakin, now redeemed, passes away peacefully.
It’s not always the case that people turn into lightsabre-wielding cyborgs when things go wrong. However, we might notice that some people in our organisation may be beginning to show some of the same tendencies.
Here are some ideas on how to prevent your staff from turning into Darth Vader:
1. Provide help when needed
Anakin turned to the dark side when he hit a major crisis and Palpatine stepped in to provide the help that Anakin was looking for.
A crisis can hit anyone at any stage of their life: a member of family in need of an expensive operation, a significant investment that failed, or gambling debts of a family member that suddenly emerges. When these things happen, people may be tempted to use their position to obtain a lot of money in a short period of time, through fraud, corruption, or even the Ah Long.
The solution? Look out for your workers and spot the warning signs. Are they looking exhausted, anxious, or jumpy? Have their patterns of behaviour changed? For example, are they suddenly working late at night or over the weekend when work pressure doesn’t justify it?
Are they not taking their annual leave at all, so that they are always at work and are defensive about others getting involved in their operational areas?
All these are warning signs that something might not be quite right. Asking questions and offering help may be enough to carry them through the situation without them getting into serious trouble. Equally, it may give them the warning that their behaviour is being noticed and they realise it is too risky to do what they were thinking of.
Try to provide useful help. For example, some companies provide free financial advice and planning services, whilst others provide counselling services on how to deal with personal crises. All these can help employees find their way through without going over to the dark side.
2. Empower and promote your staff to the level they are capable of
Ambitious, capable people like Anakin need challenging targets and responsibilities which will stretch them, otherwise they tend to get restless and look for opportunities which might not be so healthy. Keeping them busy and focused help steer them clear of tempting offers from alternative sources which could prove detrimental in the long-term.
Humility often comes through humbling circumstances, when they realise they might not be as good as they think they are and still have much to learn. Providing a development plan for them to grow will thus give them direction and encourage them to stay put if they are able to see where their career is heading.
Allow them to make small mistakes from which they can learn, and to which you can use to correct them and direct their development, and perhaps even explain why they are not yet ready for the position they hanker after.
Frustration and disappointment can also build up to a crisis point, tipping employees over to the dark side, and providing excuses for them to rationalise their misbehaviour:
“I deserve it, I work the hardest here.”
“No one will notice. What’s that to a company of this size?”
“If I don’t do it, somebody else will.”
So, make sure their creativity and energy have a legitimate output; this is also good for the company as you are utilising all that focus and energy.
3. Have clear policies and procedures on risk areas, with vigorous enforcement for the people who break the rules
The trouble with temptation is that it’s tempting! Things which people are drawn to often offer rewards in the short term while the long-term consequences remain hidden. If the Jedi Knights had had proper guidelines on what to avoid and whom to stay clear of, maybe Anakin wouldn’t have turned to the wrong source for support.
Ensure that your company has set clear guidelines on gifts and hospitality, management of cash, and other areas which traditionally have caused problems, and that these policies are well communicated to all employees on a regular basis, including the new staff.
Often, both fraud and corruption start with the small things, which people find they can get away with, and over the years it builds up to something much more serious. Nipping bad behaviour in the bud (the “broken window” theory) can prevent more serious incidences from occurring in the future.
4. Reward people for transparency and for telling the truth
Darth Vader was redeemed and returned to being Anakin when he finally told the truth and the dark mask was removed. It wasn’t a pleasant experience being on either side, but it resulted in a powerful change.
Encouraging honesty, humility and transparency encourages people to speak up about the things they are not sure about and to seek help at the right time.
If Anakin had spoken to the Jedi Knights and they had provided him with the help that he needed, his life (and the well-being of the galaxy) would not have been so seriously affected by the challenges he had to face.
So, spend time with your emerging leaders, and talk honestly about your experiences, both the successes and the failures, and what you have learned from both. This encourages them to do the same.
As an old proverb says, iron sharpens iron, and allowing people to be honest about the things they are not sure about, encouraging them to seek help when needed, and working as a team to resolve issues that one person may try and carry alone, benefit not only the individual but also the team and the company itself.
If all goes well, the young Anakins in an organisation will develop as they should: not into Dark Lords being fried by those in authority and hacked at by their own prodigy, but rather, into successful Jedi Knights working for the well-being of all concerned, which I personally think is a better option.