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:

hunting for and illuminating to others the blind spots in thinking and action that keep individuals and organizations from reaching their full potential.

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?


  1. 04.11.2008 at 11:44 am

    First of all, thanks for the mention of the article in Associations Now.
    I wholehearted agree with your comments about Jestership and the power of truth in organizations. I believe that the greatest challenge facing organizations today is not a skill set issue but rather the absence of cultures that encourage and support honest and open discourse. Too often status quo is maintained and the organization (as well as its individual members) are prevented from seeing paths to potential.
    The secret, I believe, is to embrace the concept of Corporate Jestership which I discuss in the article.
    If any of your readers are intrigued by this topic, I encourage them to visit where they can read a little bit more about it, contact us, or subscribe to our monthly newsletter.
    Thanks again for the mention!
    Dave Riveness
    CEO, Corporate Jester

  2. 07.11.2008 at 6:25 am

    Fascinating article and wonderful imagery of the Corporate Jester.
    “Never a truer word said than in jest” as the saying goes.
    In many ways the Jester of old, although very low within the organisational structures, was uniquely powerful and influential.
    There is probably something of Covey’s Circle of influence in that.
    I suppose the modern day equivalent of Jestership is probably satire – at least in political spheres. I wonder if there is room and value in corporate, even internal, satire.
    It seems to me that by adopting the cloak of humour, satire or jestership we are able to communicate “truths” in a safe, less threatening way. Humour has that thing where it subverts assumed logic to deliver an unexpected conclusion or punch line. That unexpected punchline can delivers an alternative truth, perspective or representation.
    I looked back also to your 2004 article about the challenge of single objective truths. I have just been writing on Narrative within Divorce cases.
    I wonder whether organisations might be assisted by the Narrative model, whereby several competing narratives can co-exist, each one of which has its own credibility and value.
    You can find the article here .
    Hmm, great food for thought, thanks.