In thinking about what’s needed to successfully lead in 2021 and beyond, I’m reminded of that old story about the Chinese farmer. If you haven’t heard it before or could use a refresher, it goes something like this:
Once upon a time, there was a Chinese farmer who had a horse that ran away from home. That evening, the neighbors stopped by to offer their condolences. “We are so sorry to hear your horse ran away,” they said.
Surprisingly, the farmer only replied, “Maybe.”
The next day, the horse came back home, bringing several other horses with it. That evening, the neighbors came back and said, “Oh, how lucky you are. Now you have a herd of horses!”
Again, the farmer replied, “Maybe.”
The following day, the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the horses. The horse threw him off, and he broke his leg. Again, the neighbors came by to offer their apologies.
And again, the farmer responded, “Maybe.”
Finally, a group of conscription officers came to the community to enlist people into the army.
Since the farmer’s son had a broken leg, he wasn’t enlisted.
I’m sure you can guess what the farmer said when the neighbors came by that evening. The irony of referencing a story that’s over 2000 years old when thinking about skills needed for the future isn’t lost on me.
That said, some things that resonate about that story still ring true today.
These events must have been quite chaotic for the farmer, yet he managed to:
- Stay in the present.
- Withhold judgement.
- Maintain perspective as the world continued to shift around him.
And, that was long before the concept of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) was a thing. This past year has provided us with the chance to lead through a VUCA world on steroids, and we can count on even more opportunities for VUCA in the years to come.
As we prepare to lead through the next decade, perhaps we can all take a page out of the farmer’s book.
While there are many skills we need to continue to build*, the ability to be in the present and stay focused yet agile, continues to be essential for leading self and others.
Much like a bamboo plant, we can be strong, yet flexible and resilient. Maybe that’s why the ancient farmer story is still circulating, after all.
*Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog. I’ll share more about emerging themes and the leadership skills we’re building with our clients to equip them to continue to grow and succeed in the future.