Friday, June 20, 2008

Ethics and Leadership

This story from Andrea Brown, who got it somewhere from The Georgetown Coaching Network. It's based on an old Chinese folk tale called The Empty Pot.

A successful business man was growing old and knew it was time to choose a successor to take over the business. Instead of choosing one of his directors or his children, he decided to do something different.

He called all the young executives in his company together.

“It is time for me to step down and choose the next CEO he said;I have decided to choose one of you.”

The young executives were shocked, but the boss continued.

“I am going to give each one of you a seed today - a very special seed. I want you to plant the seed, water it, and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from the seed I have given you. I will then judge the plants that you bring, and the one I choose will be the next CEO.”

One man, named Jim, was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed.

He went home and excitedly, told his wife the story. She helped him get a pot, soil and compost and he planted the seed.

Every day, he would water it and watch to see if it had grown. After about three weeks, some of the other executives began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Jim kept checking his seed, but nothing ever grew.

Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by, still nothing. By now, others were talking about their plants, but Jim didn’t have a plant and he felt like a failure.

Six months went by - still nothing in Jim’s pot. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Jim didn’t say anything to his colleagues, however. He just kept watering and fertilizing the soil - he so wanted the seed to grow.

A year finally went by and all the young executives of the company brought their plants to the CEO for inspection. Jim told his wife that he wasn’t going to take an empty pot. But she asked him to be honest about what happened.

Jim felt sick at his stomach. It was going to be the most embarrassing moment of his life, but he knew his wife was right.

He took his empty pot to the board room. When Jim arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by the other executives. They were beautiful–in all shapes and sizes. Jim put his empty pot on the floor and many of his colleagues laughed. A few felt sorry for him!

When the CEO arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted his young executives.

Jim just tried to hide in the back.

“My, what great plants, trees, and flowers you have grown”, said the CEO.

“Today one of you will be appointed the next CEO!”

All of a sudden, the CEO spotted Jim at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered the financial director to bring him to the front.

Jim was terrified. He thought, “The CEO knows I’m a failure! Maybe he will have me fired!”

When Jim got to the front, the CEO asked him what had happened to his seed.

Jim told him the story.

The CEO asked everyone to sit down except Jim. He looked at Jim, and then announced to the young executives, “Here is your next Chief Executive! His name is Jim!”

Jim couldn’t believe it. Jim couldn’t even grow his seed. How could he be the new CEO the others said?

Then the CEO said, “One year ago today, I gave everyone in this room a seed.
I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds; they were dead - it was not possible for them to grow.

All of you, except Jim, have brought me trees and plants and flowers.

When you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Jim was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new Chief Executive!”

Moral:
If you plant honesty, you will reap trust
If you plant goodness, you will reap friends.
If you plant humility, you will reap greatness.
If you plant perseverance, you will reap contentment
If you plant consideration, you will reap perspective.
If you plant hard work, you will reap success.
If you plant forgiveness, you will reap reconciliation.
So, be careful what you plant now; it will determine what you will reap later.

7 comments:

Michael L. Gooch said...

What a great (and timely) story. We are in a crisis and people, like this post, must be speaking out. The worlds of Politics, Business, Education and Ethics are difficult to blend. Organizations have negative results because the people on board cannot tell the difference between right and wrong. Due to scope, these consequences usually take longer to materialize, but is the result the same? You can find a ton of articles and books about business ethics about businesses “losing their way,” e.g., WorldCom, Tyco, Enron. You can also sign up for seminars where they preach to “do the right thing.” They paint the world in stark black and white. These resources ask one-dimensional ethical questions, such as, “Should you take kickbacks from suppliers?” For me, ethics in the workplace including schools are varying shades of gray. You have to rely on moral law, that is, does it ‘feel’ wrong? It’s easy to say, “There is right, and there is wrong.” In my management book, Wingtips with Spurs (http://www.amazon.com/Wingtips-Spurs-Michael-L-Gooch/dp/1897326882/) I address these issues in detail. All major corporations have their written code of conduct. Each one is pretty much just a copy of the others and is a major dust bunny. The next time you walk into someone’s office, ask to see the company code of conduct. Good luck on finding someone who will produce it within five minutes. The moral law is much easier to find and digest. It resides in each of us. Michael L. Gooch, SPHR Author of Wingtips with Spurs: Cowboy Wisdom for Today’s Business Leaders http://www.michaellgooch.com

Tom Magness said...

Dan

Wherever this story came from...thanks to you for passing it on. What a terrific way to remind people that ethics and character are the critical discriminator for our leaders. I wish we all had a year to make this sort of evaluation on picking leaders! Thanks again. Hooah! TM

Ian Pratt said...

Great article, however I fear it would only resonate with those who would be prepared to bring in the empty pot. Some organisations seem to be more political than others, and from what I can see office politics and capability are inversely proportional. The less capable people who network well and get themselves into good jobs tend to be more political than those who are highly capable.

Just a thought

Claude Rinfret, CRIA said...

Hello Dan,

With your permission, I would like to translate this story in French on my blog. Of course I will indicate that it comes from your blog...which is great by the way.

Here is my blog:

http://capital-humain.blogspot.com/

Claude Rinfret

Dan McCarthy said...

Michael, Tom, Ian - Thanks for weighing in on leadership ethics.

Claude – sure, I’d be honored. And Merci.

ramnik said...

VERY FEW PEOPLE HAVE THE VISIONARY RESPONSIBILITY TO DEFINE REALITY AND THOSE WHO DO ARE THE REAL LEADERS. IT IS A GREAT STORY. WITH YOUR PERMISSION MAY I PLEASE USE THIS STORY IN THE MANAGEMENT DEVLOPMENT PROGRAMS THAT I ORGANISE.
THANKS FOR PROVIDING THIS WONDERFUL INSIGHT..
RAMNEEK KAPOOR.
AUTHOR "FUNDAMENTALS OF SALES MANAGEMENT"
"INTERNATIONAL MARKETING TEXT AND CASES"

Dan McCarthy said...

Ramnik -
I'm glad you like the story. Thanks for asking, however, I’m not the author. It was passed along to me from a member of the Georgetown Coaching Network, and she didn’t know who it came from originally.
Feel free to use my blog for your programs.