Parables and stories have a lot to teach us. When I was a child, parables were one of the foremost ways I learned from my grandparents. I remember sitting wide eyed and listening to them for hours tell stories of their life and how those events profoundly impacted them. As a business coach, I’ve come across numerous parables that offer value and insight beyond anything I could single-handedly come up with. One such parable is the parable of Brother Juan.
An old Spanish legend tells of a Spanish monastery known throughout Europe as the place where one of the most extraordinary leaders of the time resided. Brother Juan was that monk. Several monks went on a pilgrimage to visit Brother Juan to learn his ways and develop his leadership skills. Just as soon as their journey began, they started to bicker about who would do various chores throughout their journey.
On the third day of their pilgrimage, they met a monk who was also headed to the monastery. He joined them, and right away began pitching in and handled every duty asked of him. He never shirked at the responsibility or complained about the work he was doing. The others would fight over chores, and he would gracefully volunteer to do it himself. On the final day, the rest of the monks had started following his example, and the rest of their journey went smoothly.
When they finally reached the monastery, they asked to see Brother Juan, the man who greeted them laughed and said, “But our brother is among you!” and he pointed to the monk who had joined them several days before.
This parable shows us that true leaders do not seek leadership positions. Instead, they do what they can to help others and their leadership role comes naturally. They aren’t looking for status, connections, advantages or perks. Rather, they do it to be of service, to help, to guide.
As we can see, leadership is based on example, not on command. We often refer to this as servant leadership. To be a great leader, you have to put others first and focus on the goals of the group, rather than on your own personal advancement.
Can you imagine how much better things would be if more politicians, educators, and business executives saw themselves as servant leaders?
What can you do today to put others first and focus on the goal of the group?