What Color is Your Court Jester?

NOTE: This is the full text of my article that was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Comedians are our fifth branch of government, so please support the care and feeding of your local comics, including the ones at your water cooler.

Why doesn’t President Trump follow the tradition of leaders from the Middle Ages (for 1,000 years), and appoint a court jester as chief of staff, or at the least to his cabinet?

Comedian Stephen Colbert of the Late Show

“Court Jester” Stephen Colbert of the Late Show

I am thinking of someone like Stephen Colbert or Jimmy Fallon. Someone who can speak the truth to power, and deliver the bad news (in a funny way) that no one else dare deliver, then live to do it again.

History tells us that for thousands of years 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.

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.”

King Trump

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, and they just might prevent you and our society from making mistakes.

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

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

I teach corporate creativity, and I repeatedly see how giving permission to someone (or, everyone) on the team to speak freely, propels the organization to the highest level of creative problem solving and innovation.” — Curtis Panasuk

Here are four things that executives and leaders can start doing today!

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.

At the end of a meeting with an individual or your staff, 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 mind, smoldering under the surface.

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.

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.


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