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A Leadership Fable


Where does the source of a leader's power come from? What helps to shape a true, strong leader? Having trusted advisors is helpful, but there's something else that aids leaders.

Once there was a powerful African Queen who ruled over a prosperous land. When asked about the source of her power, she gazed at her questioner with a mysterious smile.

“That I cannot share with you.”

Her land stretched from golden shores to forested mountains. Years before, the plains had been rendered dusty by overgrazing, but they were once again a sea of green crops.

Small villages crowded the landscape like spots on a cheetah’s back. They buzzed with chickens scratching and children scampering. The women sang while stripping cornhusks, and the men wove hunting tales and watched their pipe smoke curl skywards. It was a time of great peace.

Sadly, the queen had borne no children. She was growing gnarled; her proud stride sagged to a shuffle and her imperial hands resembled an eagle’s claws.

Being wise, she decided it was time to select her heir. She had several excellent candidates — men and women of her Assembly with whom she had discussed and debated, for many moons. She knew each Assembly member like a mother would her own child … their lion strengths, their monkey impishness and their plodding tortoise fears.

The idea of selecting one above the others was a sharp thorn stabbing at her sleep. She had to test their powers of observation to settle the matter, she decided. The first to discern her source of power would be named her successor.

She called a meeting for that evening. A pale moon carved the sky as each member stepped to the circle’s edge. A dying fire squatted in the center.

Commanding, despite her stoop, the Queen raised a bony hand and the members fell silent.

“Wise Attendants, it is time to choose a new leader for our people. The ancestors beckon to me in my dreams.”

A low murmur rose above the whisper of the glowing coals. She clawed the night and a hush drifted over the circle.

“Each of you is a gem more precious to me than those filling my treasure chests. I attribute much of our prosperity to your noble teamwork and valiant deeds. Many of you have questioned the source of my power. I am powerful in part because of you, but I have another well from which I draw great strength. The wise member that is first able to discern this source shall be named my heir.”

Saying no more, the Queen summoned her servants and stepped into the black night.

For weeks, the Assembly members watched the Queen’s every move. She used no amulets or rings. The beer she drank and the food she ate were available to all. She did not even consult the Witchdoctor, a wizened man of high repute whose spells were the strongest in the land. The members offered the Queen one explanation after another. Each time, she shook her head.

Only one Assembly member remained silent. Khanya was a vigorous woman in her middle years. She had raised seven children and a herd of glossy cows. Her face was etched with the labor and fruit of her efforts, and when she spoke in Assembly meetings, her experienced words were well-received. She was a respected woman.

She, too, observed the Queen. One day, a thought arose from her musings. The Queen had a custom of dropping in on her people as they swept, washed and hoed. They ceased their toil and drew up a footstool for her, while they squatted on their haunches. The Queen leaned forward to question them about their families, cattle, crops and hopes, and listened intently to their replies. This Khanya knew as the Queen had stopped by her home many times.

The Queen’s visits lasted a brief turn of the sun before she moved to another hut. These calls had been occurring for so long that the villagers were no longer curious.

Khanya's thought pointed to something she never noticed before. The Queen’s visits were random in all cases except one.

Read the rest of the fable.

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