Especially in times of economic crisis you see this effect more often: managers who keep their mouths shut around matters that they have serious questions about. However, also without economic crisis this behaviour is displayed frequently. Now you will probably wonder why we would consider to devote a whole blog to this. Because it is so important that managers dare to act with a freedom of spirit. How else can they carry the responsibility for (a part of) their company?
Job Opening: Court Jester
What does a court jester do and why is it a good idea to have someone like that on board? The English courts for centuries employed a so-called ‘professional fool’ or a ‘fool with a license’. The court jester had a solid influence at court and with riddles could address current topics. Shakespeare described it quite well: the court jester was wise enough to play the fool.
It helps an organisation in forming ideas and implementing them if people can – respectfully of course – give each other open feedback, also between hierarchical layers. If this is done with a healthy dose of humor, it can have the effect of distinct clarification.
A mistake often made while hiring new people in an organisation is the copy-effect. Many directors search for candidates that offer a literal mirror instead of a resonating sounding board. Smart candidates can use this to their advantage. If they let the director fill the conversation and they only nod in agreement and repeat the right phrases, they have a good shot at getting the position. Many directors say they search for managers who can challenge them, until someone actually does. All of a sudden it then seems less wishful behaviour. Is this out of convenience or is it uncertainty?
Of course I understand that the culture of a country, region or organisation is of great influence on the ‘court jester-ship’. We can all name examples of areas where direct questions and remarks are not accepted. There are, however, many areas where this is accepted but where it still does not happen.
I also see that not every personal profile is suitable for the position of court jester. Still it is good to have someone on the team who does not think too hierarchically and with a wink can address matters. This opens the possibility for others to join in the discussion.
Authentic declaration of independence
To lead a (part of an) organisation, it is essential to build this on solid plans. These plans cannot change like a flag in the wind, because then nobody will keep a longer term vision or take on a long-term project. It will probably all be different again tomorrow…. This results without a doubt in a posture of ‘daily lunacy’ that so many of us are guilty of.
It is high time that more directors and managers stand up and maintain their own authenticity and dare to be independent. After all, they have a great responsibility towards the organisation and the people. Besides, what is the worst that can happen? Having to look for a new job? Coming to the conclusion that there was no match? Is that really such a big problem? We have known for a long time that it is good to change jobs or employers every 5 to 7 years.
An important advantage for the leaders themselves is that they will reach a burn-out stage at a much slower pace, because they don’t burn their energy on suppressing the resistance they have to matters they do not really support.
Long live the court jester!