For those of you who have followed Star Wars through both trilogies, I hope you enjoyed Episode III - Revenge of the Sith.

I wasn't a Star Wars fan when the first movie (Episode IV - The New Hope) came out in the 1970s but have become one over the last 20 years. I like the character development -- especially the Yoda character. I wish I had Yoda as my coach. He is a tough little guy who is often underestimated. He was 900 years old when he died in Episode VI - Return of the Jedi.

There is so much we can learn from Yoda. The following are some Yoda quotes from the Star Wars movies and Star Wars books:

Yoda: "Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Size matters not, for my ally is the Force and a powerful ally it is. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. You must feel the Force around you. Here -- between you and me. The tree. The rock. Everywhere."

Now I'm not some Stars Wars nut that actually believes the Force really exists. I do believe, however, that we can draw on energy from within us or around us. It may not be a physical energy force but it may be a force where we draw on the experiences and beliefs inside us. Maybe we can draw on a force of energy from external motivators like competition, expectations of others or protection against a risk. By the way, I must not be a Jedi because I personally do not draw energy from a rock or a tree.

Also, Yoda is a good example where we shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Yoda was a little over 2 feet tall and not very imposing. But we learn through the Star Wars prequels that little Yoda draws on the Force to battle some tough opponents. This happens in real life. Think about Spud Webb, the professional basketball player that was 5 feet 7 inches tall, a relative midget among NBA giants. Although many said he would never get to play professional basketball, he played in the NBA for 12 years. He even won the 1986 NBA Slam Dunk competition against superstars generally a foot taller than him.

Yoda: "You must unlearn what you have learned."

We learn about fear and failure at very young ages. Later in life, our fears come out in nervousness and anxiety when we do things that have a lot of visibility -- giving a speech in front of a group, being up to bat with the baseball game on the line, asking someone to go out on a date, etc. In my 5 years of being in Toastmasters and the regular speeches I had to give, I realized that I couldn't avoid the nervousness before and during a speech. What I realized in the process was that maybe nervousness wasn't such a bad thing. I actually learned to channel that nervousness into a more energetic, sharp presentation.

Sports psychologist Dr. John Eliot writes, in his book Overachievement: The New Model for Exceptional Performance, about how athletes deal with pressure to achieve high levels of performance. Dr. Eliot writes, "When athletes say, 'I'm in the present,' that's what they mean; they were wholly focused on what they were doing right then, moment to moment; they cared about nothing else other than executing the current action. They will also say, 'It was as if time stood still.'" He describes a now accomplished heart surgeon who learned a valuable lesson in his first heart surgery - to let his instincts, from all the years of training, take over. The same goes with baseball players trying to get a hit with the game on the line and a golfer trying to be at the top of their game in a big tournament. Dr. Eliot shares his philosophy on performance:

• "The human body is hardwired to perform better under stress"

• "Pressure moments are an opportunity to show how good you are"

• "The game - life - happens one pitch at a time"

Yoda: "So certain are you. Always with you it cannot be done. Try not! Do! Or Do Not. There is no trying."

Webster's Dictionary has several definitions for the word "try" as "to put to the test" or "to make an attempt."

The implication of the definition is that the individual who is going to "try" is hoping to succeed but is preparing for the possibility of failure. When we prepare for the possibility of failure, we will be more likely to achieve it - the failure that is. Now of course, there are times when performance doesn't matter when it's the right time to just "try." It might be when we're training in something we've never done before. It might be an unrealistic goal where there is no expectation of success.

But there are times when performance or success does matter. When performance matters, we expect people to execute. We may expect them to utilize whatever is needed to achieve that success. It might be when failure has many consequences when we must "do" it. When we're in a "do" mode, we often let go of the fear of failure and figure out a way to make it happen. Think about bystanders to an unfolding tragedy and how certain people just react and put their own life at risk to save another.

The real challenge in business and our personal lives is determining if everyone is on the same page about when performance matters. I've seen it in Little League baseball where some parents may believe that performance matters when it really doesn't matter to the kid. The kid may just want to try and learn but doesn't really have much at stake if he doesn't succeed. With adults in business, it is important to get alignment on expectations regarding when high levels of performance matter.

Yoda: "Every instant the universe starts over. Choose!! And start again."

There will be times when things don't go your way or your faced with circumstances that you didn't create but you have to deal with if you are to succeed. When faced with difficult situations like this, it is easy for your attitude to become negative. A negative attitude can limit what you can achieve, can keep you from further developing your skills or can keep you from sustaining positive results.

A little over a week ago, my baseball team played for the championship in the 35 and over age division of a Houston area hardball league. In my 2 1/2 years since I started playing again, this was the first team to advance to the championship round. It has been a great team to play on - good players with good skills and good attitudes. We came in first place in the regular season and felt like we had a great chance to win it all.

We lost one game in an early round of the playoffs. We vowed that we would get back to the championship game and we did. We had some reasons to have a negative attitude First, we only had 7 eligible players available to play on the day the championship was scheduled. We started practicing in February and won some close games during the regular season to get to the championship -- only to have 7 players. Also, the 95 degree heat could have made anyone have a bad attitude.

In the dugout before the game, we all got together and one of the guys said, "we just have to stay up." If we do, we can beat these guys. Now that sounded like a good pep talk but c'mon, we only had 7 players. That meant no one playing the second base position and no one except me and another outfielder covering an outfield almost the size of a major league outfield (about 15 to 30 feet shorter in length). Well, we ended up losing the game 10 to 9 in extra innings. But I was never so satisfied to lose a game, especially with so much on the line. The attitude in our dugout was great. We all went out and did our job the best we could - just focusing on what we could do to help the team. We did not focus on the heat or lack of players.

We chose our attitude that game. We chose it individually and we chose it as a team. I chose it every moment when I was out in the field running halfway across the field in the 95 degree heat to get a ball and throw it in before they got too many bases. We chose it as a team when we were down 7 to 2. Yoda is right. Every instant we get another chance to choose a positive attitude when you believe in yourself, in others around you or in the company that you work for.

So as Zig Ziglar (one of Yoda's competing philosphers) once said, "Your attitude, not your aptitude, determines your altitude."

Yoda: "The fear of loss is a path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you. Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose."

Consider a manager known for his technical expertise. He was very bright and very accomplished. His Birkman Method (behavioral profile) validated his strengths as an analytical thinker and a team builder. But his decision making was often too slow and methodical for his direct reports. As an analytical thinker, he naturally took more time to consider alternatives, to connect ideas, to consider unintended consequences, etc. Now consider that the individual really needed to be liked by his peers and subordinates. He often procrastinated on difficult business decisions that might change the nature of his work relationships and friendships that he valued so much. He became very frustrated with upper management and the culture within the organization. He also began to communicate his anger around his peers and subordinates. As a result, his subordinates became frustrated with him for slow decision making and his superiors were becoming frustrated with him for his attitude. This person needed to train himself to let go of the fear of damaging those peer and subordinate relationships. He needed to consider input, utilize his technical expertise and then trust his instincts.

In coaching executives, managers and key contributors, I have seen how fear is the greatest barrier to learning and development. It might be fear of losing a job, losing your standing, losing a relationship, not being perfect, being late in getting work done, etc. As Yoda would say, "So many pressures they have."

Now think of a new hire right out of college that wants to make an immediate impact. It's refreshing to see their energy and also to see how they haven't yet experienced enough to acquire some of the fears that others have. Also as Yoda would say, "Learn from them maybe we can."

Yoda: "Luke, you must complete the training. You must not go. Only a fully trained Jedi Knight with the Force as his ally will conquer Vader and his Emperor."

Professional (and personal development) is not easy. When individuals have a significant development challenge, they must not end their "training" too soon -- because they will not succeed in conquering their Darth Vader (a skill development challenge, a problematic working relationship, a decline in business performance, etc.) I have found, with those individuals that I coach, that commitment, perseverance and follow-through increase if the individual really takes advantage of the self-examination and learning process. This learning helps the executive, manager or key contributor make some choices on what they want to put their energy toward improving. Some individuals start with a strong commitment but begin to lose energy when they have begun to make progress.

Yoda: "Never step in the same river twice can you. Each time the river hurries on. Each time he that steps has changed."

Yoda is describing business today. Everything is changing. It could be a merger or a new product innovation or a new IT system or a Six Sigma improvement project. Many clients tell me that there are too many change initiatives they have to deal with. There are also higher expectations on individuals to change and work on their areas for improvement.

It's a real challenge in business when change is introduced. It's always difficult to determine the impact of the change or determine if the change solved the original problem -- because other things are changing at the same time.

Let's take Sarbanes-Oxley for example. The 2002 legislation was signed into law to reduce corporate fraud and increase investor confidence. At the time of the legislation, the stock markets were reeling from the Enron and Worldcom scandals, the bursting of the high tech bubble in the stock market as well as the September 11 disaster. As a result of Sarbanes-Oxley, executives are more accountable for the internal control systems on critical financial and operating processes within the company. This has resulted in improved process and control documentation. The law also requires external auditor attest of the executives certification around the internal control environment. The cost of compliance has been higher than anticipated and this is leading legislators to consider if Sarbanes Oxley may have gone too far. Of course conditions have also changed, the stock market is higher than at the time the legislation became law. Sarbanes-Oxley became effective July 30, 2002 around the time the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a low around 7500. The DJIA is now around 10,500 - an increase of over 40%. Is it because of Sarbanes-Oxley? Is it because of greater confidence in our national security? Or was the low of 7500 an overreaction by the markets to the concerns of 2002?

One way or the other, the market is higher and most businesses are more confident than they were in 2002. There is no way to prove one way or the other with most business changes if it is the reason conditions are better or if it solved the original problem. For Sarbanes-Oxley, the "river we step in" today is not the same as it was in 2002. The current business conditions are not the same. So if Congress is considering changes to Sarbanes Oxley, they should remember that the "river" is not the same as 2002's river and either are we as a people. If you company is considering an organizational or workflow change, your decisions should be based on the conditions of today.

*       *       *

As Yoda said, "Always in motion is the future." We can influence our own future and our business function/team's future. We can either let our fears keep us from realizing the future that we want. Or we can channel the energy from our fears and draw from the forces around us to realize the future that we want.

May the Force be with you!

© Michael R. Goodfriend, Goodfriend & Associates, Inc., 2005

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