Naked Emperors

The Emperor’s New Clothes is one of my favorites among the stories written by Hans Christian Andersen. Two weavers sell an emperor very expensive clothes claiming they are invisible to those who are disloyal or inept. In fact, of course, there are no clothes but the vain emperor cannot acknowledge that and be called a fool. People cheer whenever he appears in public. And then one day….

I think of this tale frequently as I observe daily developments in the West Wing during the Pinocchio President’s administration.

Years ago in his book The Imperial Presidency, George Reedy suggests that then President Lyndon Johnson had a similar problem: He surrounded himself with advisors who told him what they thought he wanted to know rather than what he needed to know as the Viet Nam War dragged on.

In my opinion, the single most significant fact about great leaders is that they surround themselves with people who tell him whenever he is “naked,” especially if he hates to hear it.

In the business world, C-level executives and other supervisors should do more than encourage direct reports to “speak to power.”

They should demand it and then reward principled dissent.

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