True Leader: A Parable

There was once a young man who left his parents’ home to seek his way in the world. He dreamt of unimaginable wealth and fame; but most of all he wanted to be a powerful leader.

The young man wandered about until he came upon a factory in a distant city. In his arrogance he applied for the position of CEO of the company. The personnel manager gave the young man a job on the assembly line.

Grumbling and resentful, the young man took his place, but refused to follow directions and wouldn’t watch the other workers to learn how he fit into the overall production process. Then he started ordering them around. He thought, I know how to do this job better than anyone. If they’d just listen to me this factory would become the biggest and most profitable in the world. Then they will thank me and put me in charge. Before the end of his first day the young man was fired.

He went from one job to the next with much the same result. Finally, one day, as the young man was sitting on a curb, eating his last sandwich, that he bought with his last dollar, grimacing at the lingering, bitter taste of the humiliation he had swallowed, he resolved to find out what was wrong with a world that simply refused to appreciate his talents.

The young man asked around. He heard rumors about a sage, a wise old woman, who lived in the forest beyond the boundary of the city. People told him that she would have the answer to his problem.

So the young man journeyed deep into the forest where he found the sage and told her his plight. The old woman looked him fiercely in the eye and said, “Go out into the forest and watch ants for three days and three nights. Then return and tell me what you have learned.”

At first, the young man protested. He had hoped the sage would give him a quick and easy answer to his problem. Finally, having no other ideas about what to do, the young man walked off in search of ants.

He settled himself by a rotten tree stump and began to observe a colony of black ants busily building tunnels, carrying egg sacs, and storing bits of food. The young man followed their every movement for three days and three nights, until, much to his great surprise, he turned into an ant. He suddenly became aware of how small he truly was in relation to the rest of the world. He also saw how each member of the community had an essential job to do and if one worker failed they all failed, but if one worker succeeded they all succeeded. For the first time in his life, the young man felt a sense of belonging.

The young man returned to the sage and reported his findings. The old woman said, “Good. Now go out into the forest and watch a hawk for three days and three nights. Then return and tell me what you have learned.”

This time the young man did not protest, but walked through the forest with a sense of curiosity about what he might encounter. He came to a clearing, sat down on a boulder and turned his eyes upward. He immediately spied a red-tailed hawk circling above.

The young man watched the hawk dive and soar and spread his wings to the wind. For three days and three nights the young man followed the hawk’s every movement until he became the hawk. Then he felt the power of his true nature and the freedom of seeing the world from a greater perspective.

The young man was thrilled and returned to the sage to report his findings. The old woman said, “Good. Now go out into the forest and watch a tree for three days and three nights. Then return and tell me what you have learned.”

This time the young man eagerly rushed into the forest to find a tree. He settled himself on a massive root of a great white oak. The young man heard the wind rustle through her leaves and watched the rain gently bathe her bark. The young man followed the inner and outer movements of the oak for three days and three nights until he became the tree. Then he felt the sap run through his own veins and his roots sink deep into the earth and his branches reach, stretching toward the sky. He felt calm and at peace with the simplicity of his being.

Filled with his own presence and a deep respect for all life, the young man returned to the sage and reported his findings. The old woman looked him fiercely in the eye once more and said, “Good. Now go out into the world and become the person you were meant to be. And remember . . . A true leader is one who has learned to follow.”

With these words and his own experience to guide him, the young man made his way into the world. He continued his practice of observing and following. At the end of each day he rested in the simplicity of his being. All his dreams came true. He became a great leader in his community and his wealth was the richness of his friendships and his fame was his own recognition of his true nature.

Copyright 2001, Patricia A. Burke, all rights reserved
Reprinted with permission of author from: Burke, P. A. (2001). True Leader: A Parable. The Spirituality and Social Work Forum, 8(2), 4-5.

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