In days of olde the king had a court jester. This was the only person who was permitted to ask the difficult questions. Jesters were free to challenge the monarch and provide a balance for the sycophants who surrounded them.
The court jester could speak frankly on controversial issues and monarchs knew why; they understood the value of having such a person at their side.
Where are the court jesters of today? It is tough to find this character in any modern corporation. Who is asking the CEO if they really know what they are doing?
According to the Royal Shakespeare Company the jester served not just for entertainment, but to criticize their master or mistress and their guests. Queen Elizabeth I apparently rebuked one of her fools for not being hard enough on her.
In literature, the jester symbolizes common sense and honesty. In King Lear, the King uses his jester for insight and advice. He lets him take advantage of his license to mock and speak freely, to dish out frank observations and point out folly.
Lear’s fool is one of only three people in the play who consistently tell him what’s what; the other two, Cordelia and the Earl of Kent – employees as it were – are punished severely.
As a management consultant who comes in from outside – I can play that role. I can ask why something is being done a particular way. Or why this person still has their job. And so on. My clients seem to find that valuable. I have no axe to grind other than to see smart decisions being made. I am not a shareholder or an employee with other vested interests. So that could be a key part of the value I bring. To be the court jester.