Don’t Be THAT Guy

"Business Noir" is back with another tale from the dark side of business. Today we take on "The Emperor's New Clothes" - a dark, stormy tale of hubris and business leadership malfunctions. But does the Boss always know best? Does our episode star survive to do the right thing? Stay tuned and find out in this week's episode...
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Meet Charlie. Charlie just started a new job. Charlie was beginning to have reservations about their* new job and boss.

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At previous employers, they were used to saying what they thought and being included in decisions that affected their department.

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At their new company, the old-timers on the staff cringed when they opened their mouth to voice an opinion. One or two even took them aside to mention that disagreeing wasn’t a great idea if they were planning on making a career here. 

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So when the boss came to the team with a new approach to a prestigious firm that Charlie thought would be a mistake, they kept their mouth shut. 

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They felt guilty not speaking up. Their boss was going into an important meeting with the wrong information and a false sense of safety.  

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The boss made the big presentation at the meeting. Sure enough the meeting was a disaster. The other company in the negotiation pointed out the flaws with the plan and laughed at the lack of thought that went into the presentation.

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Charlie felt guilty for not speaking up, but their boss was furious and taking it out on the staff.

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Charlie resolved to find another job.

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Charlie is determined to speak up at their exit interview.

During their exit interview the boss seemed surprised that they were leaving. “At first, you seemed to be more interested in saying what you thought was wrong with an approach but the last month you seemed to settle down and support me.”

“No sir,” Charlie said. “I always supported you.”

“How can you say that?” their boss said. “I can think of many times when you pointed out what you thought were flaws and issues that you felt needed to be addressed.”

“Yes sir, I did point out areas where improvement would have helped the outcome in my opinion. That didn’t mean I wasn’t supporting you.” Charlie took a breath. They were leaving and had nothing to lose by speaking out. “Why did you hire me if you didn’t think my opinion and expertise were of value?"


“How can you ask that?” their boss asked in a shocked voice, “Of course I valued your input!”

Calmly Charlie voiced their objections. “You never seemed to appreciate my comments unless they mirrored your plans. You never altered anything or offered to try a different approach. You never thanked me for my efforts or mentioned that you’d think about my suggestions.”

Their boss looked surprised. “Why should I? You weren’t supporting me. You were criticizing me!”


Charlie sadly shook their head. “That is why we’re here today. You were never interested in anything anyone said unless they were behind your ideas. Hearing differing points of view and using them to create more depth and possibly a better approach wasn’t of interest to you.”

“Do you remember the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes?” Charlies old boss nodded his head. “Finally, someone who didn’t need to worry about their job spoke up, but not before the Emperor was totally humiliated.” Charlie took a deep breath hoping their boss would get his point. “Not everyone who suggests something other than your plan is trying to put you down, and not everyone who agrees with you has your best interest at heart!” With that Charlie left the firm.

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We’ve all been in a position where we were afraid to speak up. Fear of being laughed at or put down for not agreeing with management. We’ve been in the opposite position too. Not interested in hearing anything but how great our approach was and how awesome we were. Many folks seem to feel this is the right way to “be the boss.” That is their prerogative.

What would be advantageous to remember is as the boss you have all the power. You can say no. You can be the emperor and your staff will let you. You are in charge of their working lives. You hold power. 

the emperor and his crown
A disappointing paycheck
Businessman thinking


Stifling you staff won’t doom you to failure but it will keep you from making your company the best it can be. Having the advantage of smart people giving you what they see as the weaknesses and strengths of your plan can do nothing but shore up areas that need work and showcase areas that are strong.

This is why we are all different. Successful CEOs and business owners understand the value and importance of hiring employees smarter than themselves and learning from them, rather than “dumbing the whole organization down.”

Even if you decide to go with your idea and no changes, by actively listening to your staff, your team will be in a better position to work successfully together toward your goals. They will feel like you value their ideas and encourage them to take an active part in making your company successful.

Recognizing and respecting their value will add to yours. And you will be less likely to be caught off guard and left naked, making this approach a win-win for everyone, the Emperor included.

*They/them/their/theirs/they’re is a gender-neutral personal gender pronoun. A gender neutral or gender inclusive pronoun is a pronoun which does not associate a gender with the individual who is being discussed. Some languages, such as English, do not have a gender neutral or third gender pronoun available, and this has been criticized, since in many instances, writers, speakers, etc. use “he/his” when referring to a generic individual in the third person.

Robynne Davis

Robynne Davis is Executive Director at Xylina SPC, a woman owned, Washington Social Purpose Corporation with an emphasis on social justice and environmental responsibility. She also is the board Secretary for the Oregon Small Business Fair.

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