The Leader’s Journey: The Fool On The Hill?

Fool On The Hill

During one of my personal contemplation sessions, I was taken away by the Beatles song “Fool on the Hill” which was playing in another room in our house.

It’s the Beatles playing, so of course I had to listen to the whole song…

A Different Perspective

But perhaps because of my state-of-mind or perhaps it was my lack-of-a-state-of-mind, this song resonated strongly. While listening, I started to hear it from a Big “L” Leadership perspective (See Big “L” Leadership at previous post The Leader’s Search for Self, Meaning and Spirit.)

I have no idea what the writer’s (Paul McCartney) perspective was when the song was written.  Maybe there is some deeper or mystical meaning in the song; maybe it is just about a fool.  As I let the lyrics play inside my head, I started to relate them to some of my experiences as a Leader, Leadership Development instructor and as an Executive Coach.

Please, put on your headphones and listen.

After all what our profession demands (I am talking to the Leaders Big “L” now) is hard to achieve and it requires a depth of knowledge and skill that the “carver’s hands” etches into our soul over time and experience throughout our life.

We are highly trained professionals. And as such, we are expected to deal effectively and ethically with many  issues like these:

  • Intra-psychic resistances
  • Denial and self-deception
  • Irrational behaviors and actions

We strive to be effective in improving cultures that do not support ethical values and fair treatment of people. We continuously work to develop high levels  trust and credibility in our relationships with a wide variety of people with whom we work.

This is why the lyrics of the song hit me so hard.

Same Song, Different Place

Another Fool On The HillAs the song begins, the lyric “nobody wants to know him, they can see that he’s just a fool” made me think of all the times when my ideas and expertise were not popular nor accepted (maybe not well understood) within management and client teams and I was the fool nobody wanted to know.

Have you ever felt like the “fool” when you are trying to execute change and improvements and every way you turn you bang into resistance from others even the company’s leaders?

It takes courage and conviction to be the fool and to not become discouraged and give up.

So the Leaders (Big L) persevere in spite of the obstacles!

The song’s refrain is “But the fool on the hill, Sees the sun going down, And the eyes in his head, Sees the world spinning ’round.”  This made me think of all the times when, despite my (and others’) best efforts working hard each day, we were unable to produce any meaningful actions or changes that would help the company (as the sun goes down).

And, we kept working as time (days) passed (with the world-spinning round) and it seemed that all our hard work and expertise failed to produce sustainable change.  There were the occasional “aha moments” and some of our interventions produced that feel-good factor that soon dissipated.

  • Does “the fool on the hill” suggest that we need to accept our limitations and get over ourselves?
  • Can we accept just how ordinary we are in some situations?
  • How hard it is to be a conscious, grownup Leader (Big L)?
  • How hard is it to admit to ourselves that we all fail from time to time?

Take a look around. Time shows us how little we control.

Not On My Cloud

The song continues with the lyrics “Head in a cloud, The man of a thousand voices talking perfectly loud, But nobody ever hears him, or the sound he appears to make, and he never seems to notice…” This perspective made me think about how optimistic and positive we have to be to take on the types of assignments that define our work.

Are our heads in the clouds?

We use the vast array of systems like:

Theories | Practices | Tools

Interventions | Training | Coaching

Analysis | Experience | Judgment

to attempt to make new solutions visible and viable in the client system.

But when we do this, are there times when we are just “the man with a thousand voices that nobody hears?”

And, as we persist in executing our plans, do we sometimes fail to notice what the informal system is saying about us, the value of our work and our expertise in the “fool” conversations at the water cooler that are so common in the culture of most organizations?

Above It All

As Leaders (Big – L), we are true believers in the power of our roles so we learn to hold our noses and bite our tongues. At the higher levels of growth, we learn to respond with kindness and compassion in these situations.

At its worst, this criticism and resistance tests our character . At its best, it is an opportunity to deepen our learning and consciousness growth.

Mirror of OurselvesAgain the refrain:  “But the fool on the hill, Sees the sun going down, And the eyes in his head, See the world spinning ’round.”  This reminded me that each day brings both opportunity and risk. Over time sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t.  Regardless, we are obligated to put our best work on the table even if it is controversial.

The song continues with the lyrics, “And nobody seems to like him, they can tell what he wants to do, and he never shows his feelings…” This perspective reminds me of how lonely and alienated we can feel when it is an uphill climb to the bottom in some assignments.

In doing our work, our clients know we are obligated to hold up the mirror with the unpleasant image in it.

Dedicated To Purpose

We want to be liked and respected, but if it comes down to one or the other, the Leader (Big L) is going to choose being respected every time.  So we are obligated to do what we think is best for the client system including giving voice to the good, bad, and ugly we find in the organization.

During these times we may over-control our emotions (bury our feelings), smooth-over conflict, hold our noses, and try to take the high road when the client system may be better served if we were toburn their cover and bust their games.”

Thus the lyrics, “And he never listens to them, He knows that they’re the fools, They don’t like him,” This pretty much sums up how to be excellent in our profession, we have to become true believers in our dedication and commitment to stand for what we believe is right and just.

Lead Like A Leader

We need thick skin because the problem with change is that everybody thinks it is about somebody else, Consequently, someone is going to feel wronged in the process and blame us.

World Spinning RoundIn my experience in consulting and coaching, there are very few (little l) leaders that can resist playing the blame game or choosing a scapegoat in support of their false reality and their familiar comfort zone.

Once again the refrain:  “But the fool on the hill, Sees the sun going down, And the eyes in his head, See the world spinning ’round.”

Time goes by each day, the sun goes down, and once more, we offer up our very best making progress in some areas and not much in others.  So the world keeps spinning round for as long as we are here and we are responsible for everything we do.

So we “fools” follow Dr. Kopp wise recommendation and we, “learn to forgive ourselves again and again and again and again…”

Some questions to ponder:

  • Is our work a version of The Fool On The Hill song?
  • Are we the fool with “a thousand voices hoping we will be heard?”
  • Are we a fool to be disliked because we want to change the system for the betterment of all?
  • Are “they” the fools simply entrenched in functional blindness or the comfort of their reality?
  • Are we all fools in the game of life and the dance of ego, power, and the need to be always competent and approved of?

I welcome your comments and thoughts.

“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”  — Friedrich Nietzsche

Doug Ramsey is Managing Director at Designed Management, LLC
He helps with Performance Improvement, Change Mgmt Consulting & Coaching

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7 responses to “The Leader’s Journey: The Fool On The Hill?

  1. Wow, Doug, I’ve never seen such an in-depth application of a Beatles’ song to leadership. I found your points thought-provoking. and on-target.. One of the key traits necessary to deal with the perception of being a “fool” is an immunity to criticism. When leaders are confident that the direction and approach they’re taking are what’s best for the organization, they have to be able to withstand the resistance and rejection of others. AND, as you say, they have to take personal responsibility for their actions.

    I enjoyed listening to this, one of my favorite Beatles songs, from the perspective you discussed in your post.


    • Hello Meredith,

      Thank you for reading my post and your kind words. I agree with you comment about immunity to criticism. To me, we have to know who we are and feel good in our skin. I enjoyed your comments and appreciative the perspective you bring to being the “fool”.

      I hope all is well…




  2. Doug,
    Incredibly insightful and thought provoking. I can’t remember the last time I heard the words nor thought of them in any depth. Your message is timely and a must read for leaders and coaches for change. Thank you!


    • Hello MG,

      Thank you for reading my post and I am glad some of my thoughts resonated with you. Your kind words are much appreciated.




  3. As a newcomer to L2L, I confess to being ignorant of the topics that have been covered in these conversations; but I suspect it would be safe to presume that the value, role and experience of those of us who work in the realm of leadership and organization development has been covered more than once.

    That said, I’ve just been reading a series of TED posts, ostensibly about the failings of our schools to enable students to discover and pursue their “passions,” and to prepare them to find the ‘best’ career choice. That conversation, and this post on “The Fool on the Hill” got me reflecting on my own experience in this field, and what that says about me AND about the nature of organizations and human systems generally.

    As Doug has nicely articulated, a calling to leadership and organization development work — when viewed from a broad organizational impact perspective — is often fraught with more disappointments than successes. It is not unusual for months or even years of sustained development effort to be swept away overnight with a change in executive leadership. Further, sometimes those about us sometimes wonder why we continue to “spit into the wind” given the unpredictable (some might say fickle) nature of organizations

    So, when I reflect on why I’ve persevered through 30+ years in this business, the only answer that makes sense to me is my genuine belief in and commitment to doing what I can to foster healthy, productive workplaces — places where individuals can find and feed their personal needs for self-worth by contributing alongside others to the success of something worthwhile.

    Two related ideas occur to me:

    First, there is no question in my mind that if my own sense of identity was dependent on making visible and acknowledged impact on large system change, I likely would have found a different line of work long ago. However, as I look back over my career, I feel a profound sense of satisfaction with the relationships I’ve forged and the contributions I’ve made that [seemingly] have helped individuals and groups find and follow their own “right” paths.

    The second idea — that relates more to the aforementioned concern about our schools not adequately preparing students for careers– is that when I completed my secondary education, and even my undergraduate training, I had no idea there was a field called Leadership Development, or Organization Development. It was only by getting out into the “adult” working world that I encountered the experiences and opportunities that would ultimately “reveal” my destiny.

    So, it seems to me that whether we find ourselves viewed as “fools on a hill,” or if we encounter more disappointment than euphoria along our chosen paths, is of less importance than how WE personally feel about what we do and why we do it. The reason I love what I do — and why I have so much regard for my colleagues travelling similar paths — is that we believe — to our very core — in how important the work we do is, and the difference it can make — even if others don’t, and even if it doesn’t always happen. For, as the song says,

    “But the fool on the hill, Sees the sun going down, And the eyes in his head, See the world spinning ’round.”


    • Hello Rod,

      Very insightful comments that definitely hit home with me. Thank you for reading my post and sharing your perspective on this subject. You have taken us even deeper into the leadership calling and it is much appreciated.




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