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What is Leadership? The Tale of the Prince and the City

Updated on March 14, 2013

The Prince and the City

When he was of age, King Hammurabi’s son was sent away to receive tutorship from the greatest leaders in his kingdom, to teach him what leadership is comprised of.

He sent him first to the General of his Eastern Army, General Abisare.

Immediately upon arrival, the General sent the prince to the city, giving him one instruction:

‘Listen to the sounds of the city, and return to me with what you hear.’

The prince rode into the city pondering on his instructions.

As he rode through the market he heard the merchants offering their goods, and the horses hooves tramping on the stone.

In the temple he heard the chant of priests and their followers.

As he walked on the outskirts of the city he heard the distant clamor of the town square on his left, and the sounds of nature on his right – the bubbling rush of the stream, and the voice of the songbird.

He returned to the General with his report, but as soon as the prince finished his account, the General sent him out again, with the same command.

Bewildered, the prince rode again into the city to listen to it’s sounds.

As he again approached the market, he heard the merchants offering fruits, and jewelry, and rugs, and clothing. Their voices were loud, and often merged together, but he heard their prices, and noticed many of their offerings, and was intrigued.

‘A golden vase for only one piece of silver?’ he mused quietly.

As he respectfully entered the temple, he saw the frown of a priest, who looked angrily at an apologetic servant, who sopped up spilled wine from the temple floor.

When he walked along the outskirts of the city, he watched the young maids as they traveled from the well to their homes, jars balanced neatly on their heads.

The laughter of the children as they fished the brook met his ears, and he smiled fondly at their happiness.

He returned to the General, and gave a detailed account of his trip to the city; his surprise at the price of gold, his amusement with the angry priest, and his interest in the maids as they carried their water.

The General again sent him back to the city.

The prince set out happily, hiding his eagerness until he was outside of the General’s sight, and then broke into a gallop, the wind rushing joyously against his face.

When he returned again to report his countenance had changed. His eyes were troubled, and a cloud of anger followed him into the room. Before the General could ask him to report, the prince broke out in a rage:

‘Gold does not sell for less than silver – they are thieves, cheating, miserable swine! How is this allowed? And priests should not be drunk on wine – they beat the temple servants!’

The General stood silently, watching the prince as he paced back and forth in deep thought, until at last he sat down, his rage slowly subsiding.

‘And the well Master? Why must the maids travel across the city and carry such heavy jars on their heads? Can the brook not be irrigated through the city as we do with our crops?’

The General scratched his beard, eying the young prince solemnly. When the prince finished speaking, he spoke:

‘Hearing what others do not hear is the mark of a leader, and you’ve done well.

Listening to the people is good.

Understanding what you hear is better.

Hearing their problems and finding a solution is best.

You have completed your lesson and have learned well.’

We’ve all heard the saying ‘Practice makes perfect’, and many of us have heard the revision, ‘Perfect practice makes perfect’. In a similar mindset, listening to the people is a good habit, but listening well; understanding what you are listening to, and pinpointing problems and solutions, is the beginning of leadership.


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