The Fool’s Eraser

A fool finds a way to discount and devalue principles. There are three reasons we play the fool.

  1. We don’t like admitting we’re wrong.
  2. We don’t want to change.
  3. Our behaviors seem to work.

Fools have a need to be right that prevents them from learning.

Stubbornness looks for reasons to ignore or reject challenging ideas.


The fool’s eraser is an exception to the principle.

All principles have exceptions. Suppose you teach a group of managers that successful leaders ask questions.

Someone in the back of the room says, “But sometimes you need to tell people what to do.”

Does anyone really believe asking questions means never giving direction?

Finding exceptions is often an attempt to devalue important principles. Once resistance finds an exception, it breathes a sigh of relief. “I can stay the same.”

A person who doesn’t want to ask questions finds a reason to give directions.

It takes humility and curiosity to ask questions, something resistance lacks.

Once a fool finds an exception, it’s used to ignore the principle.

Valid exceptions:

Is there a place for directive leadership? Of course.

When the assembly line is broken and you know how to fix it, don’t call a meeting to explore options. Get the product rolling out the door. Explore options later. Equip the team to fix their own problems with a training session. (You might use the broken assembly line as a teaching moment, if time allows.)

The above paragraph does not erase the principle that successful leaders ask questions.

Principles or step-by-step instructions:

Step-by-step instructions are for incompetent novices.

Learning technical skills often requires step-by-step instruction.

Universal principles enable people to act without step-by-step instruction.

The universal principle of putting a puzzle together is – assemble the border.

Teach principles or you’ll always be giving step-by-step instructions.

What are some universal principles of successful leadership?

Bonus material:

The Business Case for Curiosity (HBR)

Why Leaders Resist Change (CBS)

How Foolish Leaders Become Wise (Leadership Freak)