I do a lot of work with leadership training and organization management. The other day I was reminded of a story I read as a kid. It was the story of the emperor’s new clothes. An Emperor, believing that his wardrobe reflects his exalted status and position, hires two weavers who promise him the finest suit of clothes. Its fabric will be invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position, not worthy of the Emperor’s attention or "just hopelessly stupid" - a perfect offering for such an arrogant and insecure man. The Emperor cannot see the cloth himself, but pretends that he can for fear of appearing stupid and unfit for his position. His ministers do the same. When the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they dress him in mime. The Emperor marches in procession before his subjects. A child in the crowd calls out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by others. The Emperor cringes, suspecting the assertion is true, but holds himself proudly and continues the procession as if nothing is wrong.
Can you see parallels today? In working with organizations across the United States, I often meet CEOs or Executive Directors whose strategy is to lead by fear and intimidation. Somehow they think that executing every decision from a ‘command and control’ position, bullying their staff, gets the best results. In creating this culture of fear, the CEO self-isolates from the value of feedback, learning, creativity and other perspectives that not only make the organization successful but also support the CEO’s own development as a leader. Staff members tend to become resigned, cynical and disengaged. The result is an organization of people who constantly have one eye out for something better. Failing the opportunity or lacking the courage to leave, they look for ways to create internal support among the other employees, promoting ‘camps’ within the company. The CEO’s faults are ‘on display’ with no one willing to speak up, to bring perspective or healthy correction. Synergies go unrealized, profits are impacted and ultimately the same breakdowns repeat without interruption.
Both the leader and the employees have a contribution. It takes courage to speak truth to power. The CEO or Executive Director is ultimately responsible for setting the culture of the organization. Are you developing a culture of courage or cowardice in your organization? Ask yourself, do people regularly give me feedback, push back if they don’t agree and/or share differing views and opinions with me? If you were walking around ‘naked’, would you want to know?