Power and Humility - The Case of Simon Cowell

The jester used to play an important role in the court of the all-powerful king. Using humour, he could get away with saying things that nobody else would dare to say. In doing so, he would help keep the king grounded and willing to recognise his own shortcomings. On Saturday, the funny and self-assured David Walliams became the jester in the court of King Simon Cowell.

As I sat down with my family to watch the often amusing and sometimes inspiring TV programme, Britain's Got Talent, there was clearly a very new dynamic on the panel of judges.

Head judge and creator of the show, Simon Cowell was back along with regular, Amanda Holden, and new judges, Alisha Dixon and David Walliams.

Previous judges have included Piers Morgan, David Hasselhoff and Michael McIntyre, but none have made Cowell seem much less cool and powerful, and more ordinary in the way that Walliams did last night.

He got away with it for three reasons:

Firstly, he is playful and funny, a comedy king who is able to send up all kinds of people (as seen in the hugely successful, Little Britain, and Come Fly With Me, plus his excellent childrens' books which we enjoy reading to our son)

Secondly, he is supremely confident in who he is. He is not cowed by Cowell, and has no fears about job security!

Thirdly, there is a sense of underlying respect in both directions. It is truly a meeting of "equals" with different perspectives and personalities.

All credit to Simon who took this on; although perhaps he didn't realise that as king, he had employed the first real jester who could so effectively and gently tease him while he is holding court.

Their joint appearance on the Jonathan Ross Show last night was even more revealing. He was trying hard to be a good sport but I've never seen him look so physically small and slightly on the edge of vulnerability as he sat between these two tall and witty individuals who were playfully tearing down his mask of being cool, powerful and in control. You can see the clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5h6Pu2Yk6cc

Time will tell if Simon Cowell's ego gets the better of him but if he and David Walliams can make the dynamic work, we will get to see that power and humility can co-exist very well.

I believe that every leader needs a court jester. Whether a trusted and respected colleague or a professional coach, it must be someone who respects the leader, but without fear. They can't possibly play that role if they are worried about their own security and employability. They need to have both compassion and confidence to effectively support and challenge the leader to make the most of themselves and others.

As a leader, are you willing to have a "court jester" in your life? Do you have the courage to be vulnerable and step beyond your "comfort zone"? The paradox is that a willingness to be vulnerable ultimately makes us less vulnerable because we learn about ourselves and what we are actually capable of handling.

That is the only way to build confidence

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