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Four Ways to Spot if You're Becoming a Naked Emperor

Establishing the difference between new clothes and no clothes

The Emperor’s New Clothes is a timeless children’s tale about what can happen when an arrogant leader hears only what he wants to hear and insists on being surrounded by people who will not challenge him. As the story’s plot unfolds, it becomes a dark comedy of humiliation, failure and weakness centered around one person who has no awareness that he is the source of many problems — not only for himself but also for the many people who blindly follow him.

While The Emperor’s New Clothes is fictional, real-life stories with similar themes are playing out in organizations around the world. Their protagonists are the employees, companies and other stakeholders who need more from their leaders; and their antagonists are, ironically, the leaders themselves. These are leaders who cannot or do not appreciate their own egocentric behavior and who are leading their organizations to unhappy endings. Most of these leaders will never know — because they do not want to know — that they are a constraint within their own organizations. Yet, for leaders who are still able to engage in objective reflection and introspection, there are clear warning signs to watch for in determining whether there may be a problem.

“The Emperor’s New Clothes”

As told by Hans Christian Andersen, the tale is about a vain, selfish emperor who is fooled by two swindlers who claim to be weavers. Knowing the emperor’s obsession with fine clothes, they convince him to pay a large sum of money to weave “the most magnificent fabrics imaginable” and create clothing that would be “invisible to anyone who was unfit for his office, or who was unusually stupid.”

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