Working Naked


By Michael J. Zappa

The human body is the most brilliant machine ever created and the quintessential work of art.  The headline above is not referring to your creativity and accomplishments in your clothing optional private abode; it is taking literary license from 19th century Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen.

Reflect on the fairy tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes.  The Emperor (leader) was a vain man, concerned more with appearances, accolades, and maintaining his current position than the harsh realities that others faced.  His subjects were afraid to express their honest opinions to him, fearing they might be deemed unfit for their position or even stupid.  The climax of this tale occurs when he is fooled by some weavers into wearing a “spectacular new suit” that, in fact, doesn’t exist at all.  The Emperor is allowed to parade through the town naked.  Finally, a mere child blurts out in honesty that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all.

Leaders at all levels of an organization run the risk of being caught naked at work, but this risk increases as one ascends the ranks.  People see pleasing their boss as important, essential to keeping their jobs.  Most leaders would proclaim they are wise enough to detect blatant deception, but it is often more subtle than that.  Very often what happens is filtering; direct reports present the info that makes them look good and their boss is expecting.  This filtering of information is equivalent to a slight degree of course variation which becomes obvious 100 miles or more into the journey. 

What would Mr. Andersen say to leaders today?

  1. Diversify and shake up your direct reports; have some non-traditional ones.  Don’t fall into the good old boys/gals’ club and get caught in group think.
  2. Meet with the biggest naysayer in your ranks from time to time, this will help keep you honest.
  3. Be aware of your own filtering tendencies and keep them in check.
  4. Remember, the mission should always supersede your personal agenda.

In the end, if your boss is truly a leader, he/she will appreciate you keeping them well informed and being open and honest.

Like it or not, our society is much more accepting of a “wardrobe malfunction” from a Hollywood star than from leaders in most other industries.


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