The Emperor's New Clothes", a fairy tale, the Stockdale Paradox as described in Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, and the story of Noah’s nakedness in the book of Genesis provide leaders with important clues about how to perform a critical role -- confronting difficult situations.
From The Emperor’s New Clothes we learn that leaders must have the courage to call out difficult facts even when no else is willing to do so.
From the Stockdale Paradox we learn that leaders must have the discipline to confront “the most brutal facts of [our] current reality”.
From the story of Noah’s alcohol-induced nakedness, we learn that leaders must be respectful and honoring of others even as they courageously confront brutal facts.
Speaking from my own experience it can be difficult to see the “brutal facts” when optimism and confidence is otherwise rampant. For instance, will I see a large expenditure of money as a great investment in the future (as everyone else does) or as a purchase we can’t afford (as the balance sheet suggests)?
Even assuming I have the discipline to confront this brutal fact, do I have the courage to call it out? While everyone else is lauding this investment in the future, do I have the courage to say we can’t afford it?
If I am going to influence people to good outcomes, I must. My failure to do so may lead to poor outcomes that could have been avoided.
But wait? Do I call out the emperor (the decision-maker, my fellow leader) in front of everyone and subject him to ridicule even though I may “right”? That’s where the story of Noah’s nakedness is instructive.
During those times when we must call out that the emperor has no clothes must we do it in such a way that dishonors him? In the fairy tale, the emperor’s nakedness is brought out in a way that embarrasses him.
Noah’s sons, Shem and Japheth, teach us that even when we have the courage to identify “nakedness” we must cover it in a way that preserves honor for all concerned. So even if I believe the “investment” is ill advised I must share my opinion in private and/or in a way that does not embarrass others.
Even as we confront brutal realities, our courage must be accompanied by honor.