Find Those People

"The Emperor's New Clothes" was a favorite childhood story of mine. It made me laugh. I couldn't believe that all those adults were standing around, watching the emperor make a fool of himself and not telling him the truth. When I grew up and went to work, I discovered it wasn't that easy.

In twenty years in management, I noticed the majority of people operating like the Emperor's ministers. I saw people more concerned with personally looking foolish, than venturing feedback; more concerned with what they thought they should say, than saying what needed to be said; and more concerned with figuring out what they thought the boss wanted to hear, than offering their point of view. Luckily, there were exceptions. If you want to be winning at working, find some of them.

In order to succeed, I needed people to stop me from being like the emperor in the children's fable. I needed people willing to state the truth, at least the truth as they saw it; people willing to push back, challenge, and tell me things I may not have wanted, but needed, to hear. Now that I'm a columnist, writer and speaker, my criterion remains the same. I need people to tell me the truth when the truth needs telling, whether I ask or not.

I may not always like what they have to say, but I'm glad they said it. I may not always take their advice, but I appreciate they offered it. And I may not always agree with them, but I know to listen deeply and consider it. I've been saved from countless mistakes, errors in judgments and blind spots by these exceptional people offering their truth-telling gift. They've helped me keep my balance, gain perspective and make decisions.

"Your idea is way off-base," she ventured. "It's not going to connect with people." Words from a trusted colleague cautioned me to rethink an important launch. In the end, she was right. It wasn't a good idea. Her words saved me more than the certain embarrassment of a failed initiative. Money, resources, and time were at stake, too.

If you want to be winning at working, look for people like this to help you. You'll know them from their candor. They're the ones not working a personal agenda who have your best interests at heart; the ones able to see the big picture who are comfortable offering their no-strings attached perspectives. They're the ones telling you the truth as they see it, who are willing to pull you back from the edge or push you out of a do-loop. I'm indebted to these people in my career.

My advice? Realize you need all the help you can get. Find a few truth-telling people you can trust. I look for people who have courage and forthrightness, like the child in Hans Christian Andersen's, "The Emperor's New Clothes." You see, if I'm out there without my clothes on, it's a sure bet I want someone to tell me.

(c) 2005 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.

Sign up to receive Nan's free biweekly eColumn at Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. She has held leadership positions in Human Resource Development, Communication, Marketing and line Management. Nan has a B.A. from Stanford University and M.A. from the University of Michigan. Currently working on her first book, Winning at Working: 10 Lessons Shared, Nan is a writer, columnist, small business owner, and instructor. Visit or contact Nan at

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