The Jester Speaks the Truth
If you're flipping through the most recent Associations Now and end up skipping the article titled "Bring in the Jester" because you think it's a fluff piece about having more fun in the workplace, PLEASE RECONSIDER!
Actually, I think fun in the workplace is a serious topic, but that's not my point here. The Jester article is about another serious issue: speaking the truth. In the royal court, the advisors (who had an interest in pleasing the monarch) too often became "yes-men," thus the court Jester developed a unique role as a speaker of the truth. David Riveness, the author of the article, applies this concept to organizations, arguing for cultures that support jestership (now there's a consultant word you don't hear every day), which he defines as:
As Riveness points out, however, the hardest part about being the jester is not discovering the blind spots, but in communicating them in a way that people can hear it and respond to it. Say it the wrong way, and it could be "off with your head!" Jestership requires effective communication skills and understanding emotional intelligence. It's hard to have your blind spots pointed out.
So here's something to reflect on. Riveness talks about the power of creating a culture that supports jestership, and I completely agree. Bottom line: a culture that supports telling the truth is going to be more effective. What's interesting is that we NEED to move in that direction. In other words, the standard culture to expect is one where it is hard to tell the truth.
Isn't that shocking? Or, at least, shouldn't it be shocking? Why do we put up with NOT telling the truth?
Another thing to think about: jestership is a critical leadership function that is clearly the domain of those NOT in power. Not that the top of the org chart shouldn't be telling the truth and pointing out each other's blind spots–they should. But it's just harder when you're at the top. People without authority bring a unique perspective and have different eyes that can see different blind spots.
Don't forget: leadership is not about power; it is about the capacity of the whole system to shape the future. Are you actively supporting the leadership functions of those not in power?