I’ve seen countless numbers of the most incredible leaders make simple mistakes that cost them their future. I’ve lost track of how often someone shipwrecked their career or relationship because of a preventable error. Whenever someone self-destructs like this, it reminds me of the classic Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes.
If this simple fairy tale was written for children, many adults can learn a lesson from this short story. Andersen perfectly demonstrated the paradox of leadership in this children’s fable. When someone achieves a high leadership level, their power becomes intimidating. This is when it becomes tough for others to offer suggestions or criticism.
This natural trait of human nature becomes a deadly paradox, because the consequences of bad decisions grow commensurate with a leader’s authority.
I’ve cautioned leaders for many years that there is a level of power and authority where a leader rarely sees or hears reality anymore. They only listen to what others want them to hear. I’m not only referring to the rogue clothiers who lied to the emperor about their “new clothes.” Andersen vividly described this phenomenon in his tale by the crowds of people lining the streets and complimenting the emperor on his splendid new clothes.
It is rare for top-level leaders to find someone with the courage and innocence of the child in Andersen’s tale who is willing to remark, “But the Emperor has nothing at all on!” You might be equally vulnerable without people around you who can tell you the painful truth, even when you don’t want to hear it.
Like my recent Unbeatable podcast guest Matt Lesser, anyone who has often coached leaders has seen people make bad decisions like the emperor in Andersen’s tale. Matt nailed it during Episode 119 when he warned us, “People who can’t be questioned do questionable things!”
We all have blind spots- not just leaders.
We all need people around us who can see what we’re missing. We all need someone to warn us BEFORE we walk down the streets wearing nothing at all. I have three minimum criteria to consider when looking for a friend to point out your blind spots.
Who can call you out?
I don’t like to hear when I’m wrong. But I’d much rather learn I’m wrong BEFORE I make a big mistake in my personal or professional life than AFTER. No one’s perfect. This means we all need someone to help us when we are wrong.
There’s a growing trend in our society to tune in to what we want to hear and tune out what we don’t want to hear. The designer news sources and the proliferation of social media comments are feeding this growing trend.
What happens if your favorite news is also fake news and the people you blocked on social media are telling you the truth? Do you have someone in your life who cares enough about you to show you that you’re naked when you want to hear how splendid your new clothes look?
Who can challenge your ideas?
Who has your back? Do you have someone who will also face you down when necessary? A good idea becomes great when it’s challenged by people who see the same problem from a different angle.
There are plenty of critics out there. Most people don’t have to look far to find someone to criticize or complain about their efforts. The challenge is becoming a person willing to listen to criticism without becoming paralyzed by it. So, who can challenge your ideas before you go out into the streets with them?
To whom can you confess?
We all make mistakes. In every human relationship, mistakes hurt more than just the person who made them. That’s why you need someone to confess an error immediately before it gets out of hand.
I’ve found that the kind of person willing to hear about your mistake also cares enough for you that they’re eager to pick you up when you fall flat on your face. Don’t let a little failure become a giant failure or mistake this year. Find someone to whom you can confess.
If you want to avoid walking down the street with no clothes, find someone who can call you out and challenge you. If you’ve already embarrassed yourself, confess it to someone you love and trust. This is how you become someone who can be questioned rather than someone questionable.