The single greatest threat to effective leadership is hubris – that is, I as a leader, or we as a leadership team develop an exaggerated belief in our own power. That we only have to speak and it will be. I don’t need to regail you with examples of hubris embedded in corporate communications. You know it all to well.
This danger has been recognised for as long as we have had leaders. Throughout history there has been only one character seen as suitable to guard against hubris – the archytypal fool. (See some examples here.) Apart from the leader, the fool is the most important person in the organisation. It is no accident that the demise of the role of fool has coincided with the greatest examples of corporate folly.
This role is so important I have a whole section of my blog devoted to it here. Just to whet your appetite, here are ten reasons you need a fool (thanks to David Firth for this list) :
1. Alienator: The fool challenges you to expand on your thinking to welcome unconventional – and therefore potentially creative – ideas.
2. Confidante: The fool provides a “safe space” where leaders and teams can talk from a place of emotion and instinct without being judged.
3. Contrarian: The fool challenges norms. Whatever you say, the fool will say the opposite. This makes you think why you are doing what you do.
4. Midwife: The fool is in charge of bringing new ideas into the world – with care, gentleness and wisdom.
5. Jester: Ivan Illich said “real revolutionaries are people who look upon their institutions with a deep sense of humour.” The fool makes sure we retain our revolutionary spirit.
6. Mapper: The fool knows who knows. So often the problem is not that nobody knows. The problem is nobody knows who knows. But the fool does.
7. Mediator: The fool enables us to re-connect our fragmented businesses in a meaningful way and get beyond our easy misunderstandings in order to renegotiate past perceptions.
8. Satirist: The fool looks around the organisation and sees all the inflated balloons of ego and deflates them. Pomposity is vulgar and silly in any self-respecting workplace. Perhaps more importantly, it is an outward show of utter certainty – and in times of tremendous instability we cannot afford to be that sure about anything.
9. Truth-Seeker: The fool knows that truth is a very simple solution to most business problems. But we don’t use it. And then the project collapses and everyone crawls out of the wreckage and says “I knew that would happen.”
10. Mythologist: The fool holds the mythology of the organisation – why Esther Jones was hired five years ago when everyone else has forgotten. Why the colours in the logo are blue and orange. All the things that were once done for a good reason but no-one else remembers why. The fool also busts myths that endure but are counter-productive.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below.
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