A king’s approach to management

King Louis IX was the only king of France to be proclaimed a saint by the Catholic Church. During his reign, he was considered the most powerful king in Europe. He was so well regarded that he was often called to mediate disputes between other kings. He reigned 44 years, much longer than the average CEO.Although he had no Blackberry, computers or any of the other conveniences of modern management, I would contend ruling France in the 13th century was probably as demanding, if not more so, than running a corporation today.King Louis had 11 children, and was succeeded by his eldest son, who became King Philip III. Last year, I heard a speaker refer to a letter he had sent to this son, which I recently came across.It contains 36 points with which he wanted to enlighten and guide Philip to rule effectively as his successor. Although much of the advice is highly religious in nature, it’s incredible how effective it would be in managing people.Paragraph 19 got my attention:”If anyone has entered into a suit against you (for any injury or wrong which he may believe that you have done to him), be always for him and against yourself in the presence of your council, without showing that you think much of your case (until the truth be made known concerning it); for those of your council might be backward in speaking against you, and this you should not wish; and command your judges that you be not in any way upheld more than any others, for thus will your councilors judge more boldly according to right and truth.”What do we typically do when someone accuses us? We become defensive. It’s only natural, and we battle it out. Let’s face it, the person up top usually wins whether he or she is right or wrong. The company may lose, the stockholders and customers may lose, but the CEO wins almost all the time.But King Louis suggested a very different process: pretend the other person is right. Learn as much as you can about his position. It gives you the ability to pick their brains and learn from them. Perhaps they have a better idea. If not, what have you lost? Some time for a little research? I’ll bet it pays off more than it fails.Some 700 years later, Stephen R. Covey wrote a bestseller called “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Habit number 5 is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Doesn’t that sound an awful lot like what King Louis advocates?If worse comes to worst, and the other person is dead wrong or even needs to be disciplined, King Louis’s process enables us to build a much better case.In recent years, we’ve had a number of high-profile CEOs brought to trial. Their first line of defense was often that they knew nothing about the improprieties, and of course, no one believed them.Unless they’re using King Louis’s process, there are an awful lot of things they will never know. Their employees just weren’t willing to risk much to enlighten the boss when it’s dangerous.So just how dangerous is it to tell you the bad news? Yes, I have a temper too, but I’ve learned it only gets me into trouble. The less I empower it, the better off I am. I’ll bet that would be true for you too.And who knows, King Louis’s process may continue to pay dividends long after retirement.Ronald J. Bourque is a consultant and speaker from Windham and has had engagements throughout the U.S. and in Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871; RonBourque@myfairpoint.net; or bourqueai.com.