Leadership Stories Weekly

– There’s an old West African folk tale that tells of a wise old man who spent his days just outside his village sitting under a shady tree where he would think. Well, one day a traveler came up to him and said, old man, I’ve traveled far. I’ve seen many things and met many people. Can you tell me, if I go into this village, what kind of people will I meet there? Well, the wise man replied, well, yes, I’d be happy to tell you, but first tell me, what kind of people have you met in your travels so far? So the traveler responded, oh, you wouldn’t believe it.

I’ve met the most awful people. People who are selfish and unkind to strangers. People who don’t care for themselves or one another. I’ve met foolish young people I could learn nothing from and old people whose lack of hope just depresses everyone they meet. And as the traveler spoke, you could see a look of sadness growing in the old man’s eyes as he nodded in a knowing way. He said, yes, I believe I know exactly the kind of people you speak of, and I’m sorry to tell you, but if you go into my village, I’m afraid that’s exactly the kind of people you’ll meet there, too.

Now the traveler said, I know it! And he kicked the dirt underneath his feet. He said, it’s always the same. Then he stormed off down the road without ever even bothering to stop in the village. Well, a few hours later, another traveler came upon the wise man. Kind sir, he said, I’ve traveled far. I’ve seen many things and met many people. Can you tell me, if I go into this village, what kind of people will I meet there? And the wise man replied, well, yes, I’d be happy to tell you, but first tell me, what kind of people have you met in your travels so far? So the traveler responded, oh, you wouldn’t believe it.

I’ve met the most amazing people. People who are kind and generous to strangers. People who care for one another like family. Now I’ve met young people with a wisdom beyond their years and I’ve met older people with a youthful passion for life that brings joy to everyone they meet, and I’ve learned much from all of them. And as the traveler spoke, the wise man smiled as he nodded in a knowing way. Yes, he said, I believe I know exactly the kind of people you speak of, and I’m happy to tell you, if you go into my village, I’m certain that’s exactly the kind of people you’ll meet there, too.

Come, then, said the traveler, and introduce me to them. Now, the lesson, of course, is that what we see in other people is determined in large part by what we expect to find there. So today when you’re working with your direct reports, your peers, your customers, your boss, even, look for in them the traits you’d most like to see, and I believe that’s exactly what you’ll find in them.

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