The Key to Leadership Success, “Mirror, mirror on the wall….”

How does an executive or leader get honest feedback from those around them?

The solution can be as simple as a polite, “please tell me what I don’t want to hear.”

Getting accurate information can mean the life or death of your company or project.  A leader who does not have accurate information is like the pilot of a 747 flying with their eyes closed.

“Leaders need to constantly ask themselves how do I find out what I don’t want to know?  When is the advice from those around me sincere, and when it is just flattery?” — Curtis Panasuk, Creativity Instructor

Here are four things that executives and leaders can start doing today — I used these when I was a CEO.

  1. If you get bad news, thank the person for the information and acknowledge how much you appreciate that they took the effort to tell you. As a CEO, you don’t want to become known as a Chief “Execution” Officer who shoots messengers.
  2. At the end of a meeting (with an individual or a team) ask the question, “Is there anything else that we need to hear or talk about.” This is where you can “open the spigot” of what may be on their minds and smoldering under the surface.
  3. When you get bad news or someone challenges you, then your first reaction should be to immediately smile because body language speaks volumes, and this sends a big OK message (to the individual and your team) that you want to hear this type of information.
  4. Finally, you can simply ask people and your team, “please tell me what I don’t want to hear.” Then, receive that information in a friendly manner (again, smile), and realize that a friend is a person who stabs you in the front.

I also teach that creative solutions can be found in history (and by looking at how other countries and companies solved your problem).  Picasso summed up this approach best with his quote, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”

For example, my lessons in leadership were reported 182 years ago in a children’s story titled “The Emperor’s New Clothes” which was written by Hans Christian Andersen.

History tells us that 600 years ago, the court jester (or, motley fool), was hired to say, “the emperor has no clothes.” The court jester was considered a leader’s most important adviser, and was someone who presented the cold-hard facts in a way that got their attention with laughs.

The leaders at that time relied on their jester to use humor point out the folly and mistakes that they were about to make. The court jester’s primary job was to challenge the leaders decisions, and secondly provide entertainment. They were not only given permission to speak freely, it was part of their job description.

For example, if the King of England was plotting to invade France, the Jester might joke, “Sire, why bother, you have plenty of fine wine in your cellar, and if you invade, the blood of the sons of England will flow like red wine.”

We all have access to court jesters today, they are our comedians, and they fill a vital role in challenging the actions of government and business, and pointing out folly in our personal daily lives. Pay attention to them, they just might prevent you and our society from making mistakes.

Comedian Steve Colbert

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