1. Section Editor(s): Raso, Rosanne MS, RN, NEA-BC

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Do you remember the children's fairytale "The Emperor's New Clothes"? The emperor rides around naked and only a child in the crowd recognizes the situation for what it really is, proclaiming, "But the emperor has no clothes!" Do you sometimes feel like that child who saw the truth that everyone else ignored? Being real and honest rather than living a pretense is an important part of our leadership practice.

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This may be a bit of an exaggeration. It isn't always a black and white situation of reality versus fairytale. There are usually subtle or not-so-subtle variations on this theme. Perhaps a proposed process or structure change for your department is so unrealistic that you wonder if you're hearing things. Or maybe you're at a meeting when one of your bosses describes an organizational process as if it was everyday practice and you know it isn't occurring much at all. How about a celebration for someone who's widely disliked or known for disingenuousness? We've all had that mind-numbing experience at some point when we wonder if anyone is noticing that the emperor has no clothes.


Choices aren't so easy in these situations and acting like they are may be a career-limiting gesture. It's possible that your perspective is truly only yours and you have to broaden it to understand a different reality. That seemingly unrealistic change may be innovative and disruptive but not impossible. Or that lacking expected process may not be occurring in your world but is actually thriving elsewhere. Black and white can become gray; find the reality first.


On the other hand, when it's clear that something is wrong, you have to stay true to your values and be a courageous leader. Remember that you don't want to address the situation by putting others on the defensive, but you also shouldn't sugarcoat the truth. You need to put yourself in the best position for an effective and constructive call to action, or at least a call to question. Pick your battles wisely, focusing on the ones that are within your circle of influence or responsibility. After all, you'll be judged as if you're the naked one.


If addressing the situation doesn't work, you should still feel good about trying. Then, let it go. There are plenty of reasons why you may not succeed: lack of stakeholder support, bad timing, politics, and authority gradients are just a few. Sometimes, the elephant in the room is best left undisturbed. If you absolutely can't accept the situation and feel like you're living a lie, you have decisions to make about your future in the organization.


This goes both ways-if someone tells you that you're living a fantasy, don't get defensive. Your staff and colleagues should follow the same principles of calling the question in a respectful and constructive way, and you should allow it. Reflect on issues brought to your attention-you don't want to be the emperor.


When you've verified reality and you can't live with it, be like that honest child. In a strong leadership environment, this should be encouraged and welcomed, no matter what the outcome. Make sure you're dressed for success!



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