Not having broadcast TV, my husband and I just discovered The
Tudors. Beyond the fun of
religion, sex, and beheadings; at its heart, the series is a fascinating
depiction of how a young Henry VIII transforms into an infamous
tyrant, to whom no one who dares speak the truth or else find themselves on the chopping block–quite literally.
There is only one exception, Henry’s Fool, Will Sommers, who speaks the truth that no
one else dares, with equal parts searing wit and jaw-dropping directness. He could do this because absolute monarchs grated relative immunity only to their court
Thinking about my own role as an executive coach, I realized that I am
indeed a Fool.
My clients are really great leaders and very powerful people in their
organizations. Despite corporate
governance prohibiting capital punishment, my clients are among the many
executives who are not provided with meaningful feedback that they trust by
their peers, direct reports or even their bosses. As a result, executive development becomes increasingly
challenging with each promotion.
After administering hundreds of interviews for 360 reviews, I know far
too well that I can only elicit candid feedback by guaranteeing to protect the
identity of the respondents.
Would most executives exact revenge for a cutting performance review by a peer or
direct report? Maybe. Is the fear of upsetting someone up the
hierarchy generally justified?
That’s why it’s important to create the space for Fools. We’re all riddled with blind spots. If the emperor doesn’t make certain
that there’s someone around who will tell him he’s not wearing clothes, then
it’s his own fault for running around naked.
Last month I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days in a group with Marshall
Goldsmith, Fast Company columnist and executive coach extraordinaire. To me, he is the living embodiment of
the modern Fool. Now I may be
overstepping my bounds by dubbing a man who has a business school named after
him a Fool. However, watching him
over the course of a few hours, he repeatedly delivered admonitions with such
easy humor and ringing clarity that his message got through even the thickest
armor. It was mastery of the tools
wielded to speak truth to power for centuries and a perfect illustration of why
the Joint Chiefs of Staff listen to him.
The global marketplace is incredibly competitive. The top of the corporate pyramid gets pretty narrow. Generations of authoritative monarchs
were enlightened enough to understand the value of Fools, how about you? Take a good look at the people you
surround yourself with. Who do you
trust to give you the kind of feedback that can shake you to your core and set
you on the right track? Who has
actually done this for you in the last three months? If you cannot name at least two people, or don’t see the
point, then I’m afraid you may be playing yourself as the fool.
Michelle Randall is the president of Enriching Leadership International. Trusted advisor to business leaders worldwide, Michelle applies her “honed sixth sense for business” to create breakthrough results. Her executive coaching and business consulting clients include senior executives at Fortune 500 companies, business owners, high-raking political leaders and their teams.