Is the Emperor with His New Clothes Leading in Your Organization?

emperorSometimes the childhood story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is a useful metaphor for business situations.  The story is about an egotistical Emperor that was manipulated into wearing clothes made of an invisible fabric in which those unable to see the fabric were presumed to be either unfit for their posts or hopelessly stupid.  As the story goes, only a child had the courage to let the Emperor know that he was naked.

In business, the “emperor” leaders can be my-way-or the-highway.  They are the kind of leader that plays nice as long as you do what they say and make them look good.  People often pretend to go along with these “emperor” leaders to their face; but behind their backs, they say these leaders are naked.  Valuable time is often wasted as people placate the “emperor” leaders or work around them out of fear that honesty could cost too much.  These types of leaders are typically arrogant, insecure, and lacking in self-awareness.  They can be legends in their own mind.

If you are working with one of these “emperor” leaders, then you know that ignoring them doesn’t make them go away.   So like the child in the story, having the courage to give honest feedback may be the answer.  Here is something you could try:

  • Ask for feedback first.  You could ask the “emperor” leader these two questions: What do I do that you value? What do I do that bothers you?
  • After listening to the responses, ask the “emperor” leader if they would be willing to let you give them feedback by having them ask you the same questions.  Keep your feedback brief and simple.

If the “emperor” leader gives and receives feedback constructively, then you may have created some space for the relationship to improve.  If the “emperor” leader is unwilling to participate constructively, then you might have some decisions to make about how much you want to work with this leader.