Leadership Lessons Gleaned from the Emperor’s New Clothes

Let’s talk about “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” It offers us a warning and invites us to the best of our human nature.

We begin the story with two rogue travelers who plan to make a lot of money capitalizing on the king’s vanity. This king loves clothes and changed them often, admiring himself and demanding that others do the same. The “tailors” gain an audience with the king saying that after years of work they have discovered a way to make a fabric so light and thin that it is almost invisible; in fact, stupid and incompetent people can’t see it at all. The king is easily convinced and pays them a fortune to weave this cloth into royal garb.


After some time, it is sent to the Prime Minister to report on its progress. When the cloth is shown to him, of course, he does not see anything. He breaks out in a sweat fearing that the worst is true about his stupidity and incompetence and therefore, to hide this terrible truth, he declares how beautiful the cloth is to the tailors and later to the king. The tailors appear with the imaginary cloth bolt to show the king that, like the Prime Minister, he hides the fact that he too must be stupid and incompetent in declaring the cloth beautiful. Then he adapts to an outfit that the king tries on. All those present admire the beauty of the cloth and beg the king to show it to his subjects. The king is a bit squeamish about it, but makes sure that only the stupid among them will not see his beauty.


The two tailors hold their imaginary train as the parade begins. People are eager to see the cloth but also to see which of their neighbors are too stupid and incompetent to see it. Of course, they are dismayed when they cannot see it for themselves. As a result, everyone declares that it is a beautiful outfit. But there is a child among them with no job or important position to protect who declares: “But he’s naked!” The father tries to silence the boy, but it is too late. Word spreads and finally everyone acknowledges that the king it is naked. The king walks like a duck, head high, back to his castle.


So what does the story suggest that we observe in the workplace?


1) The two scoundrels display behavior motivated by self-centeredness and deception. Their desire for wealth leads both of them to behave in the way necessary to achieve it. Their values ​​go out the window as they use dishonesty to take advantage of the king’s weakness to get what they want. They are not citizens of the kingdom and if they ruin reputations or damage relationships to achieve their goal, it is no cause for concern because their focus is only on what they want and if they are lucky they will leave before impact. of their dishonesty is discovered.


Lesson: become a team player.By definition, being a team member means that we sacrifice our individual needs / preferences for the good of all. Differences of opinion are natural and become the basis of creative debate. Maintaining our positions is important to our own integrity and the decision-making process, but it must be balanced with the flow of that process, the effectiveness of the group, and our future relationships with our team members. Once made, the team’s decision must be supported by all team members at all locations, regardless of their position on the issue during the process. Conflict and compromise. All they need to weigh up during the discussion with their true opinion, but then once a decision is made, all you must commit to it privately and publicly.


two) The king shows us vanity and the consequent abuse of his leadership position. The king is obsessed with his appearance and changes his clothes many times a day. The excitement of each new outfit and the recognition that results only lasts so long, so her need for more attention and self-admiration is insatiable. It is their vanity that the two “tailors” take advantage of to manipulate the king. The king’s ego is at the center of the kingdom and his court knows that if they want to maintain their position, they better serve him well.


Lesson: leadership is service.While the king has position, he is not a leader. He has replaced the role of genuine leadership with the appearance of royalty. Our egos create the blind spots that others see and have to deal with because we don’t. It is essential to create enough security so that other people we trust can give us the feedback necessary to protect the quality of our leadership from personal blind spots. And like the king, we must remember that the success of our leadership is based, not on others serving us, but on our service to others and to our organizations.


3) The Prime Minister and the subjects show us the impact of the judgment / criticism. They fear being judged and seen as stupid and incompetent. Absorbed in this fear of what others may think and, fearing that they may be right, they deny their experience of reality: the king it is naked, and say what they think will sound good to others. Because they themselves fear being judged, they relish the opportunity to confirm their neighbor’s stupidity.


Lesson: create security.Fear of judgment is a powerful driver that can take over the culture of a department, team, or company. If this dynamic and the fear it creates are not eliminated, surviving will become the goal and people will focus on what they think others want to hear rather than what needs to be said. Reality is lost and the ridiculous becomes the norm. If you see this happening, do some exploring. Find out whose ego is being protected or what people are afraid of. Then check out the lesson below.


4) The child shows us the freedom to speak the truth that comes when we are not attached to any particular result and we are fearless. He does not judge the king’s nudity, he simply claims that it is. A small statement of reality spreads like wildfire because it has the power of truth behind it. This gives others the freedom to deal with the reality that their fear caused them to deny previously.


Lesson: Be Brave! The boy has nothing to lose and therefore can afford to be fearless in his depiction of the king. Most of us have something to lose and therefore it can be difficult to be literally fearless. Instead, we need courage. Courage is being afraid of what is in front of you and taking a step towards it anyway, much harder than courage. It’s what we see heroes do on battlefields and in workshops, as firefighters and managers, in conference rooms and kitchens. Life offers each of us the opportunity to be heroic by speaking and being willing to hear the truth a little more each day.


So the emperor’s new clothes are not just about disloyal leaders. It has lessons for all of us.


1) Be a team player. 2) Leadership is service. 3) Create security. 4) Be brave.


Try this exercise:


Note that each of the four types of characters in the story does not represent individual people, but rather characteristics within all of us. We are all scoundrels, vain kings, fearful prime ministers and subjects, and heroic or at least innocent children, unafraid to speak the truth. Think about the times when less desirable responses appear and how you would like to change them. Planning ahead will prevent you from being taken by surprise and will help you respond in the way you prefer.



Copyright 2009

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