In the theatre, the “fourth wall” is the wall between the actors and the audience. Behind this wall, the world of the actors is exactly as the audience imagines it. The good guys and the bad guys all fit within the story being told. If the fourth wall is “broken” the audience is directly acknowledged the spell is broken. Once broken, the fourth wall is hard to reconstruct and the audience may not be happy. Think of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables during first act, turning to the audience and speaking in a normal, loud Brooklyn accent, “Yo, could you get off the cell phone? I’m trying to work here!”
The Fourth Wall of Business is similar. As the owner of your business, your employees look up to you. As a leader, you are their “hero.” If you are a customer service pro, clients look to you as their rescuer. Doctors, Attorneys, Accountants, Architects are the professionals we place on a pedestal. The pressure is to maintain the “fourth wall.”
Owners and professionals break the fourth wall with actions that don’t fit with the story. When employees see the boss crying, drunk, acting out, cheating, lying, or acting out of character, then the spell is broken. Years ago, my father was loyal to his physician, until one day the doctor told my dad “your gall bladder needs to come out.” My father picked up his coat and left the office without a word. The doctor called him later that night and my father told him, “It’s in my record that I had my gall bladder out 10 years ago, goodbye.” This was an honest mistake, but for my dad the fourth wall was broken; the hero was an illusion.
All leaders must always be leaders-in and out of the office. People follow people who are like them, they like them and there is a mutual respect. Business relationships are frequently dissolved for “they just are not the same person anymore.” In my career, I have seen bosses cry, cheat, and lie, cause others to lie—all outside the character I thought them to be. They lost my loyalty and my relationship changed to one of mutual distrust. Why? Because if they would do it to clients, they will do it to me. They broke the veil of the fourth wall. Yet prior to the break— I was blindly loyal.
Leadership is a Broadway play, performed by a psychiatrist!
Read your audience, know your lines, and be what the audience expects-every time.