Archetypes, Blind Spots and Court Jesters

Movies, plays and stories from the middle ages often include a character called the “jester.” He was the only one at the royal court who could speak the truth about the king and the court without having his body and head moved to mutually exclusive locations.


A few years back my colleague Dave Riveness wrote a nifty little book called The Secret Life of the Corporate Jester. In it he draws an intriguing parallel between the need kings of olden days had for a jester and the need modern senior leaders have for people to speak the truth to them, to point out where they have blind spots to truths/facts that could hurt the organization. Sometimes the blind spots have to do with what the company is or isn’t attending to. Other times (“Danger, danger, Will Robinson”) they are about the leader himself/herself.

Depending upon the level of adult development of the leader, being one to speak truth to power can be dangerous, especially if you have no official devil’s advocate mandate to do so. Even with such permission, being a modern jester is an art. To quote David:

The true skill of a jester lies not only in being able to recognize blind spots, but also in understanding how to assist others to become aware of them, without bruising egos.

…the essence of jestership: the ability to access truth lying hidden and undiscovered in the blind spots.

David then very creatively looks at some important blind spots leaders should be aware of and be open to exploring. He does this by briefly recounting a number of classic stories and images from history, myths, fairy tales, and fables. A couple of examples are The Sword of Damocles, The Rosetta Stone, and the Flight of Icarus (too close to the sun). After each story he invites you to identify the blind spot to which the story is referring before he makes some linkages for you.

This book speaks to leaders at a remarkably deep level because the images of the jester and the many fables are rooted in archetypes contained in the human condition (e.g. self-delusion, the raw fear of consequences from making a decision, acting on unverified assumptions).

Not only will this book help you reflect on your own blind spots, but you might even find yourself reading to your team Dave’s thumbnail on The Sword in the Stone and challenging them to draw out the learning for your unit or organization.

© 2009 – 2016, Ian Cook. All rights reserved.

Ian Cook About Ian Cook

Ian Cook, presenter and consultant, works with managers who want to increase their effectiveness as a leader and build a stronger team. To book Ian for a training seminar, team facilitation or keynote presentation, call toll-free at: 1-888-FULCRUM (385-2786) or e-mail: For more articles and book reviews of interest to managers please go to: