The Jesters, the Kings and the Leaders

In a string of emails about a recent conference I was attending one question became two until the trail led me to the real question on people’s minds:  Which companies will not only survive this brutal economy, but which will win?

I don’t know but maybe this (tongue-firmly-in-cheek) blog-allegory – “blogegory” — about business people will help you find your own answer.

The Jesters:  That characterization implies these people are clowns — silly and frivolous. In some cases that may be true but that’s not my point. The original jester’s job was serious. Their task was to entertain nobility. If they failed their task they risked death.  Still sound frivolous?

The Jesters of today also serve nobility, the new nobility – senior management. Jesters are easily identifiable by the wide-eyed, feed-me look in their eyes. A condition created by a mixture of fear and expectation. The fear comes from knowing their economic destiny is tied to their ability to complete one seemingly impossible (or ridiculous) task after another.

The expectation is a byproduct of their addiction to the next task. The Jester cannot live without the very thing they know may destroy them. Whoa.

The Kings: They take on many shapes and have many names. CEO, President, VP, and Chief-of-something-or-other are a few of the more common tags.

Kings travel from village to village recounting the evils of the Status Quo. Yet they are the bedrock of the Status Quo doctrine. Nary a candle is lit without their blessing. To them the Status Quo represents stability and predictability —  King-food. They must be fed daily and reward those who feed them because they buttress their Kingships and Kingdoms.

Kings are also easy to identify. Like a mother duck they have a trail of ducklings sashaying close behind them. Together they travel (some actually do waddle) down hallways and through airports. One quack from the CEO-King scatters the brood. Then, just as quickly, they tumble back into formation. Being out of formation is risky because Kings know the CEO-King must burn-the-sinners to preserve-the-faith and restore the Status Quo. Kings have astonishing power.

Neither Jesters nor Kings are bad people. They provide comfort for the masses. Human beings want to fit in, enjoy being secure, and seek calm in a chaotic world. Most people have learned to ignore new trends, not engage big ideas, and use routine as an ointment/embalming fluid, but not all.

Human beings are also unique with vast individual differences. Some are ill suited to be Jesters and Kings. Let’s call them Leaders.

Leaders have trouble staying in formation. Leaders challenge industry convention, they’re rebels, borderline anarchists. That doesn’t mean they wear togas around the office, or that the female species cleans and paints her tootsies at staff meetings. On the contrary, a good leader learns to contain competing doctrines until the time is right, like now.

The end.

I wrote this to illustrate the distinction between those seeking change and those seeking Change. Stated another way, between those collecting a paycheck and those pursuing a belief. Hugh MacLeod said, “The market for something to believe in is infinite.”

People tire of Kings and Jesters. They understand that activity sold as progress is just packaged-activity. They yearn for a Leader with a belief they can follow with their heads and their hearts.

It can be tricky, but separate the companies by their teams. Ignore the paycheck-teams and support the belief-teams, they are more likely to be the winners.

Steve