Childhood is full of stories that are passed down from one generation to another. These stories often allow adults to both coax their high-energy kids to go to sleep while also teaching some life lesson. Like most children, I loved to hear these stories (even if I did not always get the life lesson). There was that one story, however, The Emperor’s New Clothes, that made no sense to me as a child and never put me to sleep!
Every time I heard this story of the naked emperor walking around his kingdom, I would ask the following:
- Why was the emperor so easily fooled by others?
- Why did all of the adults in the story refuse to tell the emperor the obvious?
- Why did only a child have the courage to speak the truth?
With time, I came to understand the story, however. Leaders impact the behavior of those who follow them. The Emperor’s New Clothes is a valuable parable on the failure of leadership that teaches the following four lessons:
Insecure leaders hurt the business enterprise. Some leaders have an excessive need for recognition and praise. Other leaders care too much about what others think of them. These leaders hurt the business enterprise because they divert organizational resources towards the wrong outcome—their own ego needs. True leaders inspire others to follow them to fulfill strategic goals. These goals meet the needs of the business enterprise—not the leader’s needs.
Leaders have to create the right environment for honest communication to occur. To get honest communication from organizational stakeholders, leaders have to recognize and reward those individuals who speak honestly. Leaders also must be open to criticism of their own effort. Effective leaders learn to focus on the value in the message and not on the messenger himself. They are not threatened by disagreement or criticism. They encourage both to get the best results for the business enterprise.
Leaders need self awareness. We all have our strengths and weaknesses and this is true of the best leaders as well. Leaders need to be self-aware and understand their areas of weakness, emotional triggers, and the skill areas where they need the assistance of others. Effective leaders are self-aware and they have emotional intelligence. No matter how smart they may be, effective leaders know their limitations.
Leaders need to surround themselves with the right people. Leaders need smart, skilled people working for them who speak their conviction, help the leader to not make poor decisions, and provide expertise that supplements the leader’s own skills and abilities. Effective leaders create an environment that fosters motivation.
Ultimately, the story of the emperor is the tale of an insecure leader who was unable to develop beyond his shortcomings. Effective leaders are seldom born. They evolve over time. They develop their skills, learn from their mistakes, focus on the strategic needs of the organization, and develop “a tough skin.”