As emperor, keep your clothes on

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in Best-Practices Leadership,HR Management,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers

To former Pepsi executive Michael Feiner, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” written in 1837 by Hans Christian Andersen, is the greatest leadership story ever told.

You know the story. An emperor acts like a fool because his subjects are too cowed to tell him the truth: that he’s been hoodwinked into wearing invisible “clothes.”

Fact is, you might prefer to take a walk in the nude than suffer a high-profile embarrassment at work. So, have you taken any precautions? Are your people telling you the truth?

Here are some reasons why they might not be, and what you can do about it:

Reality 1: Accept that, like the emperor, you may not realize your predicament until somebody tells you.

Solution: Solicit feedback. Don’t flinch or strike back if the criticism is harsh. Instead, keep asking until you’re able to solve the problem together.

Reality 2: Understand that it’s scary to tell your supervisor you disagree with him or her. It’s much safer to go along. After all, employees reason that the boss probably knows more about what’s going on than they do. (Of course, you’d like to think that, too.)

Solution: Convince your employees that intervening will not make them look stupid or endanger their jobs.

Reality 3: Employees might assume that if they disagree with you, they’re wrong. They think they’d better sit tight and figure things out later.

Solution: If you share information regularly, no one should second-guess himself or herself. It’s also your job to impress upon people their duty to speak up, with these words: “I want your viewpoint, especially if it differs from mine,” or “You may disagree, but I’ll understand that it’s because you want us to succeed.”

Reality 4: If your people fall victim to fear, deference or a misplaced sense of loyalty, who’s going to tell you you’re naked? Answer: a future leader.

Solution: Cultivate that person. It will reward honesty and tip off everyone else that you want it straight.

— Adapted from The Feiner Points of Leadership, Michael Feiner, Warner Business Books.

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