Wikipedia shares the Hans Christian Anderson Story – The Emperor’s New Clothes, This story is about two weavers who promise an emperor a new suit of clothes that they say is invisible to those who are unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent. When the emperor parades before his subjects in his new clothes, no one dares to say that they don’t see any suit of clothes on him for fear that they will be seen as “unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent”. Finally, a child cries out, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”
I can only imagine how the emperor felt when he realised that he was naked. He probably experienced a range of feelings, – embarrassed that he displayed the royal assets for all to see, angry that he was duped by the weavers, hurt that his trusted advisors did not point of the obvious, and at the bottom of it, great sadness that he was the subject of such treatment by a large number of people. He probably was left with the lingering feelings that come with self betrayal, as he ignored what his eyes told him and forced himself to believe what others said.
When I reflected on my leadership, I also experienced a range of emotions. I felt a sense of deep regret over the way that I treated team members and even more ashamed of how I treated myself.
The leaders that I coach confess similar emotions. Their faces and their words reflect the sadness, remorse, anger and deep hurt that these revelations bring.
Over the years that I have worked with leaders I have developed a unique Clothing the Emperor process that involves, among other things, these four steps:
1) Admit that you have a problem – When the young boy shouted, the emperor admitted that he was indeed naked. When he admitted his nakedness, he had choices to make – he could continue to flash his parts or he could get clothed. When we receive feedback from our peers and team members, we need to be open, listen to the feedback and concede that parts of us if not all) are naked, Then we have a choice to make, remain naked or be clothed.
2) Get rid of the subjects – It may be wonderful for your ego to have people around you who agree to every thing that you say, or who hang on to your every word or tell you that you are the best thing since slice bread. But how does that serve you? Are you to walking around pretending to be what you are not? Are there silent snickers since you refuse to see the obvious? If you are surrounded by people who do not challenge you or who always agree that your idea is the best, then, I suggest that you quickly get rid of them or at the least stop listening to them. These loyal subjects will say anything to feed your ego, while benefitting from the follies of your ego. Switch these out for some truth speakers who will tell you like it is. Also, consider the possibility that the emperor’s court may have been terribly afraid to tell him the truth – who wants to lose a head? If you know that you shout or call other’s names or display inappropriate behaviour when team members disagree with you, then they are not being shady or dishonest by agreeing with all that you say and do – they my be afraid of you.
3) Face the weavers – Those who have duped us can provide us with real insight into our leadership. What about us attracted them? What did they see in us? In the ideal world, the weavers would give us feedback that would provide us with deep and powerful “Ah Ha” moments, but in this world, they most likely will not. Learn from the event, and think about your actions and take responsibility for your part in the charade. The emperor’s ego, his desire to have a coat like no other, and the promise that he could identify persons who were “unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent” led him to deny this eyes and believe the weavers. While accepting responsibility for your part , don’t blame yourself for the actions of others – that has nothing to do with you. I’m sure the emperor was not the first person that the weavers duped.
4) Put on some clothes – At the end of it all, we’ve already stood naked in front of the crowd. We have made the mistakes and suffered the consequences. We know today what we did not know yesterday. We are naked and we need to put some clothes on. So let’s just do it. Get a coat, a dress, a pair of pants, whatever is your fancy and put it on. Have some fun with it, we’ve already suffered. There is a world of clothes to try on – once you don’t return to the weavers. As you wear your clothes, use a 360 degree mirror so that you can see yourself as others see you. Get honest feedback and self reflect on the veracity of the feedback. Breathe in and keep going.
It’s easy for us to laugh at the emperor. But he’s the lucky one, he’s a fairytale character; not so with us – we are real, So dear reader, to help you as you clothe yourself I leave you with a few questions:
What parts of you are naked?
Who are the tailors in your life?
What are you wearing now?
Maxine Attong uses her Clothing the Emperor process to assist leaders to Lead there teams to win. She is the author of Lead Your Team to Win and Change or Die.