SERVE the Force

At Elder Research, we truly believe that we are all leaders. Some lead technically, some lead relationally, some lead clients, and some lead teams or business units (and if you don’t yet, you soon will!). Our model of leadership is that we serve those we lead.

This approach is embodied in the SERVE model borrowed from the book The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do, by Mark Miller and Ken Blanchard.

Marco Aletto

Jericho McLeod

Date Published:
October 25, 2023

As leaders and managers at Elder Research, we often chat about leadership, avoiding clichés while seeking serious insights. We dive into leadership books, discuss workplace dilemmas, navigate the challenges leaders face among our peers, and offer support as needed.

Just last week, with Chesaney (our fearless leader) missing and only the two of us left to choose a topic, we jokingly thought of analyzing the Jedi and Sith from Star Wars through the lens of Elder Research’s SERVE model. The light-hearted suggestion soon turned into a deep dive, examining how those in these fictional factions would succeed or fail as leaders in our organization.

What is the SERVE Model of Leadership?

The SERVE model is grounded in the concept of “servant” leadership and was first articulated by Robert K. Greenleaf and Larry C. Spears. Everyone at Elder Research is trained to lead based on this model, and it’s designed to help leaders focus on empowering and elevating those they lead. The acronym SERVE stands for:

See the Future

Have a vision (not literally, but when you include the Force, it might get a little more complicated), set a clear direction, and establish a compelling picture of the future.
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Engage and Develop Others

Focus on the needs and development of your team members, ensuring they feel valued, understood, and involved. If we want to be good leaders, we must prioritize the welfare of our colleagues.
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Reinvent Continuously

Be willing to constantly change, adapt, and innovate. This involves personal reinvention, system and process reinvention, and structural reinvention (not exactly what most people seek out on their own -- especially ten-thousand-year-old space wizard factions -- but a great attitude for business success).
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Value Results and Relationships

A balance (very important theme) between achieving results and building relationships is crucial. Remember not to be so focused on outcomes that you neglect important personal connections.
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Embody the Values

Model the values you wish to see in your team and organization. Seek alignment in beliefs and behaviors, and especially be an example for others to follow.
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Jedi vs Sith: Servants to Whom?

For the Jedi and Sith orders, their views on each component of the SERVE model are wildly different at times, but match quite closely at others. Breaking it down to each part, we came up with the following:

1. See the Future


Force-sensitive people can literally “see the future” and plan accordingly. The Jedi often tap into the Force to foresee future events. Yoda spoke of future events being unclear; he could see cryptic generalities which were subject to change.


Though they believe in setting a vision based on peace, justice, and the betterment of the galaxy, the Jedi were not able to predict the weakness of the republic and prevent its downfall by a small set of actors.


Their ability to “see the future” was powerful, but they didn’t anticipate and adjust themselves to an ever-changing galaxy.  (A warning for how challenging this step is.)


Sith Lords also look to the future using their force abilities, but their vision often focuses on their aspirations: personal power, control, and dominance over others.


Palpatine foresaw events much like Yoda but was overly confident in his vision. Astonishingly, he was able to architect the hostile takeover of an entire galaxy with very limited resources.


Yet his overconfidence led to his eventual downfall, as his great power made him unable to see the risks to the organization he created and the people he became involved with.



Both sides literally see some of the future, with different purposes and limitations, though not completely, and they still underestimate risks.


2. Engage and Develop Others:


The Jedi Order places great importance on training and mentoring. The relationship between mentors and mentees is central to the development of a Jedi, emphasizing growth, wisdom, and the importance of passing on tacit knowledge. Jedi do this by creating schools, removing children from their families (not cool), and training them using ethically questionable methods.


That said, the organization held the development of others as a core value. Their mentorship process consisted of pairing an accomplished Jedi with an apprentice, or Padawan, and through their relationship, each enhanced the skills development of the other. The master passes wisdom to the apprentice, and the apprentice gives fresh insights and perspective to the master.


The longevity of the Jedi Order is attributable, at least in part, to the success of this mentorship program that spanned tens of thousands of years.


In contrast to the Jedi, the Sith often operate on principles of dominance and subjugation. While there are master-apprentice dynamics, it’s fraught with distrust.


The Rule of Two states that there can only be two Sith at a given time; a master and an apprentice. Thus, the apprentice is trained to eventually overthrow the master. The master, being aware of this rule, is constantly wary of their apprentice surpassing them as it means their own violent demise. Still, the Sith mentors invest heavily in a single mentee at a time, despite their full awareness that a mentee will… ‘surpass’ them at some point.


Despite being a moral and philosophical contrast to the Jedi, the Sith adopt the same principle: two is better than one, and together they are stronger than the sum of their parts.


Slight Win – Jedi.


Both the Jedi and the Sith seek to develop the next generation for Force-wielders, but the Jedi are more likely to see their engagement.


3. Reinvent Continuously:


This is where the Jedi begin to lose ground in the SERVE model: the Jedi Order is traditionalist and strongly reluctant to change.


This rigidity led to the downfall of the Order, though it lasted millennia and its dissolution required decades of planning from the Sith. In contrast to the Order itself, individual Jedi might reinvent their approach based on their experiences, such as the Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn, who desired exploration and expansion of philosophies and bent the more rigid rules to suit the situations he was in.


The Sith are more individualistic and reinvent themselves as needed to gain power, adapt to challenges, or achieve their ambitions.


The invention of the “rule of two” was a complete overhaul of the Sith, entrusting the entire history of their order to two individuals. Individual Sith readily adopt new technologies and opportunities but can be very head-down about accomplishing immediate goals. This reinvention and adoption of new tactics led to the eventual rise of the Sith on a galactic scale, where they ruled over an entire galaxy. Even this achievement, however, was very short lived.


The Jedi Order was able to last for millennia before being overthrown by the more quickly-evolving Sith, but the Sith were unable to replicate the longevity of the Jedi Order on rapid re-invention alone. They achieved their near-term objectives but had no long-term strategy in place to maintain their position, putting them in a “the dog caught the car but was not equipped to drive” situation. Their intended solution, ruling through force and fear, ignored the will of the population and their capacity to overcome oppression.


Sith win.


The Jedi Order was unable to reinvent itself without significant outside influence.


4. Value Results and Relationships:


The Jedi actively act against the value of relationships; familial relationships are discarded entirely, and romantic entanglements are to be avoided; the only relationships of value are professional relationships. That’s not a great work-life balance.


While the Jedi strive for positive results, they prioritize the means (peaceful, just) over the ends. Results are valued to some extent, but even with stellar results, one can somehow be admitted to a council without being granted the rank of master (looking at you, Mace).


Sith are almost exclusively results-driven, focused on achieving their objectives regardless of the means. Relationships are secondary and can be sacrificed if they interfere with goals, despite the fact that the dark side uses these relationships as sources of negative emotions to enhance the powers of the force wielder. The goal is all that matters, and the goal is always more power.


Draw, since both the Jedi and the Sith seem to bring their work home with them.


5. Embody the Values:


Jedi are taught to embody the values of the Order from a young age. This includes peace, serenity, compassion, and non-attachment. They are expected to live by these values and demonstrate them in their actions.


The Jedi do help one another obtain their goals, and their goals tend to be in service to others, not accumulating wealth and power to themselves.


If we are talking about the values of the SERVE model, we can assess the Jedi to literally be in “service” to the galaxy.


The service-side of the Sith is non-existent.


Sith values include ambition, power, and passion, but never for others; these values only apply to the individual.


They believe in harnessing these values to achieve their desires, and they live by these tenets vehemently.


Stone-cold victory for the Jedi on this front.


Galactic Insights

What’s the takeaway from our Star Wars/leadership analysis? A quick laugh between colleagues? Or a deeper exploration of servant leadership values reflected in fictional narratives?

Our leadership chats, though sometimes rooted in something fun, fortify our bond and elevate our leadership prowess. Through this exercise, we didn’t just focus on our passion for light sabers; we critically examined the SERVE model’s manifestation in an interesting context. While we might not channel our inner Qui-Gon at Monday meetings, we’re reminded of the SERVE model’s significance in refining our leadership approach.

For our readers: how might dissecting leadership styles in various backdrops enrich our understanding? Are there other universes where the SERVE model can be used as the backdrop of analysis? Imagining this analytical exercise in other fictional universes could yield profound insights (perhaps we have a sensible excuse to do this dance again?).

To wrap up this intergalactic analysis of space samurai from someplace far, far away: stick with the way of the Jedi in your leadership journey. Nobody wants a workplace Palpatine.

For more info on the SERVE model and our company culture:

Our Culture