Panchatantra and the CIO: The Fox and the Lion




Once upon a time there was a jungle. Like most jungles it had a king. The king, a lion, ruled his kingdom with kindness and generosity...except when he was hungry. Then, his highness went out and helped himself to the first subject who came along. Meal was served.

As stories go, there is nothing unusual about this one, so far. Hunger is, and has been, a defining trait of leaders for generations. Leaders have always been magnanimous to their flock till they are hungry.

You might argue that "hunger" is what drives one to seek a leadership position in the first place. Next you will suggest that an oilman with deep connections with the military-industrial complex took us into an unnecessary war! People like you make me sick. That is so un-American that even god will not forgive you. 🙂

But we digress!

You see, our king, the lion, who had convinced others that he had been ordained by god herself to rule over all her other creations, was facing the reality of god's will - he was getting old. Each passing day brought him closer to his impending demise accelerated by age induced frailty that prevented him from hunting. The chosen one was going to die of hunger before he did of old age!

Oh, the cruelty of god's will!

Well, our king did what comes naturally to most kings - the commander-in-chief appointed himself a deputy. This deputy-dog, actually a fox, was to bring the king fresh meat every day. But there was a condition. Yes, even hapless kings get to set conditions.

Our king's royal lineage prevented him from accepting someone else's hunting. The fox was to deliver live animals to the king who would then kill and eat them.

Our wily fox, or Cheney as his friends called him, used his guile and the full force of the king's office - not to mention illegal wiretaps - to deliver deli fresh delights to his king daily. All foxes get their pound of flesh and our fox's mamma raised no fool. His formula for success, you ask? Two for me, one for you!

It is also the natural order of things that lame duck kings face waning power. A day did come in our kingdom when all the fox's guile and the fear of the king failed to put food on the table, as the saying goes. The fox came back to the palace empty handed.

The king was furious. But first, he was hungry! "Get out there and get me something to eat or else," he roared. The fox ran out, tail between his legs.

As luck would have it, he came upon a donkey grazing in an open meadow. This plump juicy bucket of meat was just what the doctor ordered. The fox could have killed him in a second but per the executive order he couldn't. You may recall that our king did not like take out food. So near and yet so far!

Now what?

The fox had a plan. He walked up to the donkey and said, "Hello friend, where have you been? I have been looking for you all day." The startled donkey responded, "Why?"

"Well the king wants to reshuffle his cabinet and he wants to appoint you the new chief of staff," replied the fox.

"I am not qualified to be on anyone's staff, leave alone being the chief of staff! Stop pulling my chain or I will kick your ass," replied the, well, ass.

A little conversation and a lot of flattery later the donkey was walking happily toward his death. As they reached the palace they saw the king sitting at the dining table - a bib around his neck and fork and knife in hand. His expression was clear - yes, the king could not hide his hunger.

As always, impatience is the enemy of the kill. One look at this scene and the donkey took off.

The fox gave him a hearty chase and finally caught up to him. "What was that all about?" he asked the donkey, "do you know what you just did?"

"Saved my life, you fool," replied the donkey.

"Saved your life?" screamed back the fox, "You just ticked off the king who was sitting there waiting to celebrate your appointment to Chief-of-Staff."

"What kind of a jackass runs away from such an honor?" asked the fox.

Now, this was crossing the line. The donkey was not going to be spoken to with such disrespect. He was the new Chief of Staff, for crying out loud!

"You better watch what you say to me or I will have you water-boarded," roared the donkey, as he turned and sauntered to the palace - this time with purpose. Finally, he was going to be recognized. More importantly, he had done his kind proud. You see, he was going to be the first donkey to serve on the king's cabinet.

Now, that is a legacy to, well, die for!

It would come as no surprise to you that, this time, the king was ready for the donkey. He pounced on it and killed it with one fell swoop. Hastily, he put his bib back on and reached for his fork and knife and then he heard the fox.

"Sire, how can you have a meal without taking a bath?" asked the king's faithful henchman.

The king was not going to let his intense hunger disregard tradition passed on for generations. He dutifully walked away from his meal to go take a bath. "I won't be long," said the king and commanded his deputy, "You better keep an eye on my meal."

Our fox had hunted all day. He too was hungry. Years of serving his master, well actually having his way, he had developed royal taste buds - his hunger was not satiated by just any meat; he wanted select meat. So, while the king was taking a bath the fox ate the dead donkey's brain.

The king came back fresh and ready for his meal. Quickly he reached for his favorite meat and then it hit him - there lay the dead donkey with his head split open and the brain missing.

"Who ate my food," yelled the hungry king, "did you eat the brain? Tell me now or I will kill you!"

"Sire, you are angry at me for no reason," replied the fox, "the ass had no brain. For if he did, would he have come back!"

Leadership lesson:

  1. You may be the king of the jungle but a wily fox may be:
    1. eating your lunch or
    2. making an ass of you
  2. Delegation requires trust. Trust but verify!
  3. Don't be an ass, always be wary of flattery.

About the Author

Sourabh Hajela is a management consultant and trainer with over 20 years of experience creating shareholder value for his Fortune 50 clients. His consulting practice is focused on IT strategy, alignment and ROI. For more information, please visit www.StartSmartS.com.

P.S: Some of you are wondering that in this real life like story, who is the "donkey?" Well, my friends get yourself a mirror.


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