Attention all innovative, results oriented, influential, self-styled leaders… Check your wardrobe!

Vilhelm Pedersen illustration

Vilhelm Pedersen illustration

We all know the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes in which the leader of an empire gets duped into believing he is getting the best clothes that only the brightest and most clever can see, when reality, he is naked… and everyone sees it but only a small child isn’t afraid to say it. As leaders, we do not need some charlatan to trick us. We are all too good at doing it to ourselves.

From my observations, this problem is particularly insidious with dynamic, forceful, results-oriented leaders who are used to success. One of their unmistakable gifts is vision… and they can convince anyone that they are right… and people should respect their decisions because they are in charge… and they know what they are doing… and the buck stops with them… and after all, isn’t that why they are the leader?

All of these things can be true, but still, the emperor has no clothes.

Successful individuals with this kind of leadership style still need reality checks, which become increasingly difficult as the leader reaches higher levels of authority and success. The dynamic, forceful leaders who is wise, will take time seek out appropriate individuals in the trenches from whom s/he can obtain (and actually listen to) feedback—and not just do it once to say it was done. While the leader would not—and probably should not—act on everything s/he hears, I believe most leaders would be amazed at how different people in the trenches perceive their actions from up on high.


You may say, “That is easier said than done!” True! But then again, running your team or organization is not easy, but you do that challenging work every day. You don’t have to be like Undercover CEO to engage with people in your organization. If you are dynamic enough to run your organization, you have the ability to get feedback outside the cocoon of your office. But it has to be your choice. This is just one more challenge you must choose to face and win.