Written by: Anthony Madigan, MD
In season 2 of Disney+’s The Mandalorian, a single scene captures almost everything that makes this show a rewarding watch.
The central relationship is between an emotionally damaged Mandalorian bounty hunter, known by some as Mando, and the unbearably cute Yoda-like youngster, Grogu.
For reasons he can’t quite understand himself, Mando has undertaken to reunite the kidnapped Grogu with people who will protect him. On their incident-strewn travels they develop a bond that is unmistakeable: the deep connection between the protective parent and the wilful but vulnerable child. Mando puts his life on the line; Grogu unscrews parts of any vehicle he’s traveling in.
Grogu’s path to security and maturity involves taking proper control of the power he has. He needs training, but when they find the individual with the skills to guide him, Grogu is uncooperative.
It transpires that Grogu will only reveal what he is capable of to someone he trusts completely. Empathy is what brings out the best in him. And it’s only the Mandalorian who has built that bond, identifying with the fears and struggles of his charge and dedicating himself to protecting him.
With some patience and cajoling, Grogu plays ball. Literally, as the test he has to pass is to move with his mind a small metal sphere that has another life as the knob from their ship’s ‘gearstick’ – a recurring symbol of the relationship the two have established.
Empathy is not a soft skill
Leaders exist to help their people. Our review of research into leadership and story, released this week, shows that empathy is at the heart of the leadership toolkit. And if you want to build empathy with people, the research shows that story is the tool of choice. And it’s a lot easier than putting yourself through life-or-death situations on distant planets.
When an audience is deeply engaged with a story, their brain activity synchronises powerfully with the storyteller’s. It’s called neural coupling. If you’re not triggering that reaction when you communicate, your leadership influence is weaker than it should be.
How do these elements come together? Leading people through change is a straightforward example.
Leadership as quest
The Quest is one of the fundamental story shapes – the pursuit of an objective while overcoming many obstacles. It’s what the Mandalorian has embarked on.
Change is a quest story: a big start, a distant objective, and a whole world of pain in between.
Most leadership change communication is about the beginning and the end, It’s rarely about all that pain along the way. And yet, empathy is built through a shared understanding of what that pain is going to be like, how to get through it and why it’s worth the suffering – a shared understanding that can be built with story.
Shaping your change communications as a quest story will get the brains in your audience synchronising, build the empathy you need for the battle ahead, and set the organisation up to achieve its objective. When trust runs deep, people will bring their best.