Panchatantra and the CIO: The Scorpion and the Frog

Can 2000 year old fables teach us important lessons in leadership? You be the judge!trans

Often, what we learn as kids goes in the trashcan of memory past. Often, these learning have been ingrained in our behavior. Often, they have been forgotten. But always, they are relevant to us throughout our lives.

As a child, I remember reading the fables of Panchatantra. I am not sure if their learning got ingrained in my behavior but I am certain that they are relevant to everything that I do today and will be relevant to everything that I do in the future. It is with this conviction that I thought about sharing them with you.

About Panchatantra

Panchatantra – as the story goes! – was written in 200 BC by Vishnu Sharma. As is the case with such texts, they are usually passed on verbally from generation to generation and as such their real date or origin cannot be accurately ascertained. Getting caught up in their origin is really not my cup of tea but feel free to knock yourself out here.

The purpose of these stories was to teach young princes the fine art of “Rajniti” or “Political Science.” The stories were based on players in the animal kingdom so they were interesting to the young princes and their lessons ingrained in their psyches.

So princes and princesses – young or old as the case may be – without further ado let us take a look at the first story from Panchatantra.


The Scorpion and the Frog

Once upon a time a scorpion lived on the banks of a river. One day the river flooded and the poor scorpion feared for its life. If it did not cross the river to the other side then this could be the last day of his life.

As luck would have it, the scorpion spotted a frog who was hopping around oblivious of the dangers of the flooded river. After all, it had nothing to fear from the approaching water.

The scorpion had a brainwave – why not seek help from the frog?

But as the scorpion approached the frog, scared it jumped away. The scorpion calmed the frog down with a promise of not hurting him. Then it asked the frog for help crossing the river.

The frog, who was no slouch, told the scorpion to take a hike. “Aren’t you going to kill me if I got close to you?” he responded. Once again the scorpion promised not to hurt the frog. “If I killed you, how would I cross the river?” he replied.

The scorpion had a point.

The frog changed its mind and now wanted to help the scorpion save its life. “Hop on to my back, little brother, and I will take you to safety on the other side” he said with sincerity.

So the scorpion hopped on to the frog’s back and off they went into the swollen river.

Every hop of the frog took the scorpion one step closer to safety. The frog gallantly hopped on. As they reached the middle of the river the frog felt a sharp sting on its back. It has been stung by the scorpion.

As the poison slowly took effect, the frog could not help but wonder: why? “Why did you sting me? Aren’t you going to die too?” asked the wounded frog.

The scorpion calmly replied: “because that is my nature”


Leadership lessons

Well, do not hop around scorpions is an obvious one but sometimes we cannot help that. There are scorpions all around us whether we like it or not.

Seriously though, the key lessons that I took away from this story are:

1) Learn to spot “scorpions” – fast and early in the game

2) Focus on the nature of people – they can change everything but not their fundamental nature.

3) Always carry an antidote – you never know when a scorpion will sting you!

Are there other lessons? Let me know!

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 his consulting firm.

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