In the courts of medieval royalty, there was often a jester. Wearing brightly colored clothing and acting a bit like a fool, the jester often was booted around while the king and his entourage laughed. He acted as the personification of jokes and pranks.
David T. Riveness, Corporate Jester CEO and author of “The Secret Life of the Corporate Jester” said there is a modern version of the jester. This person lives in corporate America, and in the learning department, his role has changed from royal trickster to a bringer of truth.
“In a lot of organizations, whether they’re focused on traditional skills or anything else, the basic foundation of truth varies by quite a big degree,” Riveness said. “Part of it is that skill application is going to be very hard to do unless someone has a true understanding of what’s happening in an organization. To make any kind of decisions, you need the big picture. The idea of a jester came out of the historical foundation of what jesters did back in the royal courts — they are visual people who provide truth and perspective where there are holes and gaps or blind spots.”
A historical jester often had license to say things others didn’t dare. That hasn’t changed today, in that it is often still not a good idea to contradict a leader’s direction or vision, despite what might be advisable from a development standpoint.
“In a lot of organizations, the traditional way to create impact is through skills development,” Riveness said. “You may create a foundational course and figure out a way to improve time management or decision-making skills, but foundational to all of that skill building is an element of awareness — no matter how you build the skill level, if you don’t have an underlying awareness, you can’t apply the skills.”
It’s critical to determine to what you as a learner or a provider of learning are committed. Many modern corporate organizations perpetuate or harbor a kind of “me versus us” mentality, Riveness said.
The basic foundation of the jester perspective is that the CLO must care that all the leaders in an organization see the truth about themselves and the organization’s weak points. Presumably, those leaders will then be more willing to talk about learning solutions to develop leadership and improve blind spots on an individual or organizational level.
Further, to be effective or to succeed in skill or leadership development, you can’t be a jester sitting in your office, wondering where your blind spots are. Rather, Riveness said you need to have other jesters help you see your weaknesses, and you should opt to help them see theirs.
With an overarching sense of awareness at the forefront of learning program delivery, the paradigm shifts from one that is solely individual, reactive or learning-focused and becomes more inclusive, more cultural, ferreting out those best practices that should exist if everyone in the company is to improve and develop.
“It’s a very odd realization, that there may be other things out there in your world that you have no idea about,” Riveness said. “But the fascinating thing about these blind spots is that everybody has them. Blind spots are in all areas of people’s lives — how you’re perceived as a leader, for instance, or the gap between your understanding of your customer satisfaction levels and how they actually feel. Your brain covers visual blind spots. You may not notice them, and unless there are jesters to help them see, they’ll never know that’s something that they should be working on.”
As the traditional keeper of organizational and individual development, Riveness said the CLO is in the perfect position to help build a culture supportive of jesters, blind-spot skill development or individual awareness.Filed under: Leadership Development