Monday, January 4, 2010

Authenticity – The Emperor Is Naked

Do you remember the story of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes”?  It is a story of an Emperor who is duped by shysters who convince him to wear clothing that has so many wonderful powers that the clothing is invisible to people who lack the intelligence and insight to see it.  Of course we know that there was no invisible clothing and the Emperor goes sauntering down the street completely naked.

Everyone witnessing the parade, not wanting to look like an idiot, marvels out loud about how beautiful the clothing is.

It takes the innocence of a child, someone who doesn’t feel the pressure to tell people what they want to hear, who calls it as it is and thus alerts everyone else to the truth.  The Emperor is in fact naked.

I wonder if we face many situations where we are afraid to exclaim that the “Emperor is not wearing any clothing” for fear of how people will receive the message and for fear of what the repercussions could be.

Airport Security and The Emperor’s New Clothes

This thought came to mind this morning as I listened to people on the radio discuss airport security.

Airport security keeps the "amateur nut" from doing stupid things on aircraft.  That being said, a security system is only as strong as the weakest link. 

I travel quite a bit and have witnessed in airports where airline crews go around security.  Incidents such as the EgyptAir crash and the Air Canada copilot who needed to be restrained on a flight to London last year show that flight crews are human also and can place aircraft in jeopardy.

I watched in Toronto as a cleaning woman with her cart was sent around security so she could make her rounds inside the secure area.  She may be clean from a security standpoint but if someone observes her daily routine, something could be planted on her cart to be picked up on the inside by someone else.  I have been given tours of airport grounds without going through security and could have left something on the grounds for someone else to pick up.

Suicide bombers in the Middle East are now putting PETN (the material used by the individual on the Amsterdam to Detroit flight) INSIDE their body.  This will not be picked up by the new imaging systems that governments are insisting on installing

So the measures are good.  However, let's not get so complacent as to believe that the measures will catch everything as some officials want us to believe.  The tighter we grip something, the more likely we believe things are secure.  The truth is that, like grains of sand, the tighter we squeeze our fist, the more likely that some things will slip through. 

Air travel will never be completely safe and we need to accept that instead of being shocked when incidents arise.

Consulting and The Emperor’s New Clothes

When I look within the spheres of influence that I move in, whether it be in the professional consulting world or in many of the volunteer initiatives I participate in, the Emperor doesn’t just have some invisible clothing – he has a whole wardrobe that grows by the day.  I have many examples I could give but in doing so, my blog would be hundreds of pages long and I might inadvertently violate a few nondisclosure agreements along the way.

Suffice to say, many people tell their clients exactly what they want to hear and not what they need to hear.

Conversely, some clients create projects where the message they want to hear is the deliverable.

In either situation, no one is doing anyone else any favors.  In fact, they are just adding to the wardrobe of invisible clothing while telling the world that the world would be an idiot if they didn’t see the beautiful patterns and materials that the invisible clothing is made of.

In other words, they are sending more and more people into the world totally naked.

Perhaps that person is themselves. 

Perhaps that person is you.

If you are such a client, demand better from those offering advice to you.

If you provide guidance to someone else, insist that you be allowed to call it as you see it instead of providing something that the client wants to hear.

To not demand and expect authenticity in information exchange is to not empower people to make appropriate decisions in a timely, effective fashion.

Receivers of poor information find that they are not in demand after awhile as their poor choices are a reflection of the poor information.

Providers of poor information find that they eventually are not in demand either as their resume fills with one failed client after another.

Failure, like success, is a process that takes time to develop.

Do your best to demand authenticity in every exchange you have.

Otherwise, you may find yourself parading around your sphere of influence totally naked.

In a metaphoric way, of course.

In service and servanthood.



To read my Musings-in-a-Minute version of “Authenticity – The Emperor is Naked”, please click here.


PS There is a wonderful book, “The Ugly Duckling Goes to Work” by Mette Norgaard, that readers of this blog may find quite interesting and thought provocative.




When I first read this book, I could tell by its opening line that I was in for a wonderful voyage. 

Work can bring us alive, but it can also kill us.

Thus opens a fascinating book that evokes a fascinating structural tension in the reader – the nostalgia of revisiting childhood storybook favorites versus the A-HA moments of enlightenment one receives when discovering fascinating insight into our personal or professional lives.

Taking six of Andersen’s stories, including “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, the author, Mette Norgaard, shows how a story enjoyed by children has deep insight into the life we live as adults.

I highly recommend this book to everyone and have given many clients a copy as a gift.


  1. Sharing an interesting and amusing exchange about authenticity (with permission). Many times an authentic question can make you aware of something you never realized before. In this case, Allan was asking me if my Skype ID (KingHartuc) was perhaps inappropriate for someone who talks about Servant Leadership.

    Read on!


    Allan Corbett has sent you a message.

    Date: 1/04/2010

    Subject: Musing about King Hartuc

    Hi Harry,

    I have always enjoyed our your musings, and our brief eMail chats.

    In response to your suggestion that we demand authenticity form others, let me pose a question to you.

    How do you rationalize the name you have given yourself - "King Hartuc" with your stated objective of Servant Leadership ?

    If possible, I'd like to stop short of being critical of your choices . . . but it sounds like there may be a disparity in language there, and I wanted to draw it to your attention.

    All the Best !

    - Allan


    My response:


    Hi Allan,

    Happy New Year to you!!! :-) Thank you for your kind words.

    That is a great question - it is, in fact, an inside joke.

    In my last semester of college, someone unbeknownst to me nominated me for Winter Carnival King as a joke and I won.

    Some people nicknamed me "King Har Har Har Tuc" when they realized I had won as a result of a joke and it got shortened to King Hartuc.

    So there is nothing regal or pompous in it - it is in remembrance of a funny joke from MANY years ago. :-) Many of my former college mates still call me up and call me King Hartuc or just Hartuc as a result of this. :-)

    Take care and create a great day!



    Thanks to Allan for his authentic question. :-)

  2. King Hartuc,
    Thanks for your blog on authenticity.

    I wonder about your use of the word "demand" when taking about authenticity. Can we demand that others be authentic or can we only make ourselves available to authentic relating? I tend to go with the latter because when I start making demands of others (and even myself), even to speak the truth, I find myself slipping into my ego and believing I know the right way to be authentic. As we know, authenticity is about each person being true to him or herself. I tend to be overly demanding of myself which is the reason why I am suggesting a softer position. The last thing I need in my life is yet another demand. I want to be available for authentic interchanges and set that as the intended outcome.

    I can openly question the Emperor about being naked. That may provide an opportunity for him to see. If I demand that the Emperor put on his clothes, it may set up an unnecessary power struggle.

    The bottom line as I see it is that you are calling all of us to remain as authentic as possible with everyone we meet or do business with. You are encouraging us to hold that principle as a guiding light so we can truly see.


  3. Hi Leonard,

    Thank you for your kind comments.

    You are right - "demand" is a poor choice of words in many scenarios. Perhaps I should have used the word "expect".

    It is ok to expect something different from others as that is based on our own life experiences and needs. To demand it is not necessarily appropriate in many situations.

    That being said, there are some situations where we can and should demand clarity of vision and execution. For example, we can demand strong laws around human safety, safety of our food supply, etc.

    To merely expect it allows some people to lower their own expectations of what they need to deliver.

    Look at what Ms. Napolitano said when the guy was caught trying to blow up the plane. She said the system worked exactly as it should have and for that reason, everyone should not be as upset as they are.

    In fact, the system didn't work at all. The people on the plane were lucky that he couldn't ignite his device.

    In situations like that, I have more than an expectation of a better response from her. I demand one. :-)

    Thank you, Leonard, for your authentic exchange!

    Take care and create a great day!