Ethics and Leadership : What you plant now will determine what you will reap later...

At a time when Q on Q profitable growth has become a key driver and there is a mind boggling competition, it is difficult to resist the temptation for shortcuts. I came across this story. It's based on an old Chinese folk tale called the Empty Pot. It provide an excellent reinforcement and lesson on significance of ethics & leadership.

"A successful business man was growing old and knew it was time to choose a successor to take over the business. Instead of choosing one of his directors or his children, he decided to do something different. He called all the young executives in his company together.It is time for me to step down and choose the next CEO he said;I have decided to choose one of you.”

The young executives were shocked, but the boss continued.

“I am going to give each one of you a seed today - a very special seed. I want you to plant the seed, water it, and come back here one year from today with what you have grown from the seed I have given you. I will then judge the plants that you bring, and the one I choose will be the next CEO.”

One man, named Jim, was there that day and he, like the others, received a seed.

He went home and excitedly, told his wife the story. She helped him get a pot, soil and compost and he planted the seed.

Every day, he would water it and watch to see if it had grown. After about three weeks, some of the other executives began to talk about their seeds and the plants that were beginning to grow. Jim kept checking his seed, but nothing ever grew. Three weeks, four weeks, five weeks went by, still nothing. By now, others were talking about their plants, but Jim didn’t have a plant and he felt like a failure. Six months went by - still nothing in Jim’s pot. He just knew he had killed his seed. Everyone else had trees and tall plants, but he had nothing. Jim didn’t say anything to his colleagues, however. He just kept watering and fertilizing the soil - he so wanted the seed to grow.

A year finally went by and all the young executives of the company brought their plants to the CEO for inspection. Jim told his wife that he wasn’t going to take an empty pot. But she asked him to be honest about what happened.

Jim felt sick at his stomach. It was going to be the most embarrassing moment of his life, but he knew his wife was right.

He took his empty pot to the board room. When Jim arrived, he was amazed at the variety of plants grown by the other executives. They were beautiful–in all shapes and sizes. Jim put his empty pot on the floor and many of his colleagues laughed. A few felt sorry for him!

When the CEO arrived, he surveyed the room and greeted his young executives.

Jim just tried to hide in the back.

“My God, what great plants, trees, and flowers you have grown”, said the CEO.

“Today one of you will be appointed the next CEO!”

All of a sudden, the CEO spotted Jim at the back of the room with his empty pot. He ordered the financial director to bring him to the front.

Jim was terrified. He thought, “The CEO knows I’m a failure! Maybe he will have me fired!”

When Jim got to the front, the CEO asked him what had happened to his seed.

Jim told him the story.

The CEO asked everyone to sit down except Jim. He looked at Jim, and then announced to the young executives, “Here is your next Chief Executive! His name is Jim!”

Jim couldn’t believe it. Jim couldn’t even grow his seed. How could he be the new CEO the others said?

Then the CEO said, “One year ago today, I gave everyone in this room a seed.
I told you to take the seed, plant it, water it, and bring it back to me today. But I gave you all boiled seeds; they were dead - it was not possible for them to grow.

All of you, except Jim, have brought me trees and plants and flowers.

When you found that the seed would not grow, you substituted another seed for the one I gave you. Jim was the only one with the courage and honesty to bring me a pot with my seed in it. Therefore, he is the one who will be the new Chief Executive!”


  1. Anonymous2:20:00 PM

    ethics do count in pursuing career.

  2. Anonymous11:55:00 AM

    fantastic one.. Honesty will always reap good results. Be what you are.

  3. Anonymous11:05:00 AM

    An inspiring one and really nice
    Sami Prasaad

  4. Haha...on a lighter note means need to find a good wife who advise you on the correct thing to do :)

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Dear Mr. Raj Gupta,

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful message,very is difficult to resist the temptation for shortcuts due to the competitive world.

    Honesty is the best policy!

    Rekha Jaison

  7. Its good as a story, Ideally the CEO has to be wife of JIM and not Jim because ethics are part of ones slef though can be nurtured.

  8. Wonderful corporate lesson to be learned by the young managers. There is no short cut to success. The corporate leader also be honest and ethical in their policy and dealing.The honesty and ethics brings success, peace and prosperity.
    Avinash Kanoray

  9. Anonymous3:00:00 PM

    Good point. Asking a trick question is one way of handling a situation, but mostly may not be possible.
    Having said that, the basic moral of the story remains true and applicable.
    Here is a short piece on Ethics from a Blog I write:

  10. Wonderful post that you have shared here about the employee recognition programs. Your article is very interesting and I really enjoyed reading it. Thanks for sharing this post employee recognition programs

  11. Your subconscious mind can also be your wife, it kicks in first. You have a choice.

  12. Really nice article. Inspiring one.

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