What Color is Your Court Jester?

NOTE: This article was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Comedians are our 5th branch of government (the press is 4th branch), so please support the care and feeding of your local comics, including the ones at your water cooler.

We all have access to court jesters today, they are our comedians, and they fill a vital role in challenging the actions of government and business, and they point out folly in our personal lives.

Pay attention to them, and they just might prevent you, your company, our society and our government from making mistakes.

Comedian Steve ColbertI am thinking of court jesters like Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Kevin Nealon or Will Durst, and I am thinking of the comedy clubs that house them such as Rooster T. Feathers in Silicon Valley.

Someone who can speak the truth to power, and deliver the bad news (in a funny way) that no one else dare deliver, then, they can live to do it again.

History tells us that for thousands of years the court jester (or, motley fool), was hired to say, “the emperor has no clothes.”

The court jester was considered a leader’s most important adviser, and was someone who presented the cold-hard facts in a way that got the leader’s attention with laughs.

King Henry V of England was King from 1413 until his early death in 1422.

King Henry V of England Used a Court Jester

For example, if the King of England was plotting to invade France, the Jester might joke, “Sire, why bother, you have plenty of fine wine in your cellar, and if you invade and have a war, the blood of the sons of England will flow like red wine.”

Battle of Agincourt in France

The blood did flow during the invasion of France

“Leaders need to constantly ask themselves how do I find out what I don’t want to know? How do I know when the advice from those around me is sincere, or when it is just flattery?”

The solution can be as simple as a polite, “please tell me what I don’t want to hear.”

I teach corporate creativity, and I repeatedly see how giving permission to someone (or, everyone) on the team to speak freely, propels the organization to the highest level of creative problem solving and innovation.”

Learn the four habits of highly successful leaders in my article,  “The Key to Leadership Success, Mirror, mirror on the wall…”


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