The parable of the ugly chair – How to handle a sticky situation without offending anyone.

ugly chairOnce upon a time in a place far away there was a man who made a journey to see his friend in a distant city. The sojourner walked into the pastor’s office and could not help but see the chair off to one side. Behold, it was an ugly chair. It appeared to have suffered much at the hands of many for the upholstery had torn in many places and the seat had sagged in the middle. The arms were worn and apparently the soles of a thousand shoes had scuffed the finish right off the legs.

“Where did you get this treasure?” I asked my host.

“One of our parishioners brought it in and donated it to the church.”

“Some donation,” I suggested. A few more like that and you could have a low end thrift store. Why don’t you just throw it out?”

“I would,” he said. “But they are nice people and they mean well. If I immediately threw it out others would notice and they might not understand. Ugly chairs are worth more than they seem. The principle at play here is more than a chair. It has many layers. First, we must always be grateful for the contributions of others even if they might not be up to our standard or quite meet the needs of the moment. Second, others are watching to see how I handle this. I want to communicate to them that I appreciate everyone and welcome their investment in our organization. Third, everyone is important, even the givers of ugly chairs. Fourth, there is a way to deal with this without offending anyone.”

“And what, I pray you, would that be?”

The wise leader spoke. “First, I welcomed the gift and thanked the giver. Next I found a place of honor for the ugly chair right here in the main office. Indeed, after the passing of a short time, the chair found a new place to reside and it sits there now off to the side. While it had been front and center it is now part of the bigger picture and beginning to blend in by those who frequent this place. You saw it because you are not from here. Others who do frequent here have seen it so often they don’t see it anymore. In another short time the chair, having become part of the background, will find a new home in a less visited office. Then after the passing of more time it will decide it needs solitude and find refuge in a storage room. Eventually the chair will find a new home in another place entirely, perhaps take a journey to the great outdoors to reside. By then, no one will have noticed that the chair is not here. It will have served its purpose over time and we shall not be faulted for having been insensitive and ungrateful.”

“I think I see,” said the traveler. “not every issue, not every event, not every situation needs to be confronted directly nor dealt with immediately. Why create a crisis or an offence when no such crisis exists and an offence can be avoided.”

“Verily,” said the wise leader. “You have learned well.”

And so it was.

Prudence – 4 things it is not, 4 things it is, and 5 things it will do for you as a leader


patton apologizesIn a Sicilian hospital, the career of one of the most capable Allied generals nearly came to a premature end. General George s. Patton slapped a soldier because Patton considered the man to be a coward. It was an act of imprudence and poor judgment. Had the General discovered all the facts, considered them and weighed the consequences, doubtless he would not have slapped the man.

But impulsiveness cannot coexist with prudence.

4 things prudence is NOT:

  1. Prudence is not indecision. Indeed it is the opposite.
  2. Prudence is not cowardice. They may at times look alike but they are not.
  3. Prudence is not procrastination. Delay can be a trap, ask General George MacLellan, the Civil War Union army commander who President Lincoln replaced because he could not make a decision to fight and kept waiting for more troops, better weather, more whatever before taking action.
  4. Prudence is not leading from behind (which is not leading at all). One cannot lead from the rear. One may guide and advise from the rear, but to lead means to be in front and to take the risk of being out in front of everyone else.

So then, what is prudence:

Prudence – considering and responding to the consequences of actions taken or not take along the way to achieving one’s goals and objectives and fulfilling the vision.

1. Prudence is taking intelligent risks. It may seem crazy to some but it should never be considered foolhardy. One may make quick decisions to take advantage of an opportunity without being impulsive. Experience teaches you how and when to do so.

2. Prudence is making smart choices. A superlative leader knows very well that all choices have consequences so they do two things. They weigh those consequences BEFORE making the decision or taking the action and they prepare to handle the consequences.

3. Prudence is strength of character made manifest. It is the visible evidence of a person of experience who has learned along the way.

4. Prudence learns from failure but does not punish for it, either oneself or others.

Prudence does these 5 things for the superlative leader.

  1. Prudence enables a person to lead from the base of strength of their own character and not have to rely mainly on the office and position of power they occupy. Their authority comes from who they are as a person manifest in the decisions they make and the values they hold not from the title they bear.
  2. Prudence enhances and sharpens our ability to make good decisions, to possess sound judgment. Because of a forward and comprehensive focus, prudent leaders are never fuzzy about what they intend to do and how they intend to do it. They are purpose driven and values based.
  3. Prudence enriches our ability to stay on course, to avoid following distractions, and pursuing actions that yield only short-term benefit. Options are many and often. Knowing what not to do can be as important as knowing what to do.
  4. Prudence tempers impulses that color one’s image. Leadership is, in a large part, a matter of optics. It does matter how things look to others. If Rome is burning, effective leaders do not fiddle away. I am not being political when I point out that it just looked bad when the President went immediately to the golf course after spending just a very few minutes talking about atrocities in the Middle East, namely the barbaric beheading of a journalist. Prudence considers how that affects one’s ability to influence, how others would perceive it and tempers actions accordingly. Ask George Patton about this one.
  5. Prudence energizes the execution of justice. It is fairness and equanimity that mark a prudent leader, one who deals the same with everyone.

Superlative leaders are well-grounded, solid and reliable, tempered and tested. And they recover. Patton went on to become one of the most valuable and capable field commanders in military history.

Aristotle named prudence among the four cardinal virtues. Indeed, it is the one virtue that evens out our performance, tempers our impulses, and anchors our position as a leader.