Recently I had the privileged to review a book about leadership – "Serve To Be Great".
I have included an excerpt that resonated with me.
There was once an emperor who wanted to become the ultimate leader. He thought that if he only knew the answers to three questions, he might become the greatest leader in history.
1. What is the best time to do each thing?
2. Who are the most important people to work with?
3. What is the most important thing to do at all times?
The emperor issued a decree throughout the kingdom announcing that whoever could answer the questions would receive a great reward. Many who read the decree made their way to the palace immediately, with many different answers.
In reply to the first question, one person advised that the emperor make up a thorough time schedule, consecrating every hour, day, month, and year for certain tasks, and then follow that schedule to the letter. Only then could he hope to do every task at the right time.
Another person replied that it was impossible to plan in advance and that the emperor should put all vain amusements aside and remain attentive to all important tasks in order to know what to do at what time.
Someone else insisted that the emperor could never hope to have all the foresight and competence necessary to decide when to do each and every task by himself. This person said that what he really needed was to set up a council of wise men and then act according to their advice.
Someone else said that certain matters required an immediate decision and could not wait for consultation, but if he wanted to know in advance what was going to happen, he could consult magicians and soothsayers.
The responses to the second questions also lacked accord. One person told the emperor to place all his trust in administrators, another urged reliance on priests and monks, while others recommended physicians. Still others put their faith in warriors.
The third question drew a similar variety of answers. Some claimed that science was the most important pursuit. Others insisted on religion. Yet others claimed that the most important thing was military skill.
The emperor was not pleased with any of the answers, and gave no reward. After several nights of reflection, the emperor resolved to visit a hermit who lived up on the mountain, who was said to be an enlightened man. The emperor wished to find the hermit and ask him the three questions, though he knew that the hermit never left the mountain and was known to receive only the poor, refusing to have anything to do with persons of wealth or power. So the emperor disguised himself as a simple peasant and ordered his attendants to wait for him at the foot of the mountain while he climbed the slope alone to seek the hermit.
Reaching the holy man’s dwelling place, the emperor found the hermit digging a garden in front of his hut. When the hermit saw the stranger, he smiled, nodded his head in greeting, and continued to dig. The labor was obviously hard on him. He was an old man, and each time he thrust his spade into the ground to turn the earth, he grunted heavily.
The emperor approached him and said, “Wise sir, I have come here to ask your help with three questions: When is the best time to do each thing? Who are the most important people to work with? And, what is the most important thing to do at all times?”
The hermit listened attentively buy only smiled, patted the emperor on the shoulder and continued digging. The emperor said, “You must be tired. Here, let me give you a hand with that.” The hermit thanked him, handed the emperor the spade, and then sat down on the ground to rest.
After he had dug two rows, the emperor stopped and turned to the hermit and repeated his three questions. The hermit still did not answer, but instead stood up and pointed to the spade and said, “Why don’t you rest now? I can take over again.” But the emperor continued to dig.
One hour passed, then two. Finally the sun began to set behind the mountain. The emperor put down the spade and said to the hermit, “I came here to ask if you could answer my three questions. But if you cannot give me any answer, please tell me so that I can get on my way home.”
The hermit lifted his head and asked the emperor, “Do you hear someone running over there?” The emperor turned his head.
A wounded man was running up asking for help. The emperor jumped into action and helped the wounded man by dressing his wound.
Later, the emperor again asked the hermit about the three questions.
The hermit replied… Had you not helped the wounded man on your way home. Then you would have deeply regretted not staying with me. Therefore, the most important time was the time you were digging in the beds, the most important person was myself, and the most important pursuit was to help me.”
“Later, when the wounded man ran up here, the most important time was the time you spent dressing his wound, for if you had not cared for him he would have died. At a minimum, you would have never known the joy of reconciliation with a former enemy. And, it’s quite possible that the man would have tried to attack you again in the future. Thus, he was the most important person, and the most important pursuit was taking care of his wound.”
“Remember that there is only one important time, and that is NOW. The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion. The most important person is always the person you are with, who is right before you, for who knows if you will ever have dealings with any other person in the future? The most important pursuit is making the person standing at your side happy, for that alone is the sole pursuit of life.”
This story serves as a great reminder of what we need to do to be most effective in our lives. Simply being fully present with a person is one of the most effective ways to show that we care. In fact, being fully present with what we’re doing NOW and who we’re with in the current moment may be the most important thing we can do in our lives.
I truly believe that you can achieve extraordinary success, while making a significant, positive impact on the world. However, this is possible only if you Take Action!
Before you move on to what’s next, take a moment to write down at least three things you will do in the next 24 hours to help you better serve the people around you and inspire others to do the same.