I gladly consented, and arrangements were made for my driver—who also served as my interpreter—and me to leave at first light the next morning.
We started out at six o’clock, and after driving for almost two hours, we finally left the modern city lights and were greeted by unpaved roads, dusty villages, and dense green forests. Just when I thought we were about to arrive, my driver indicated that we still had another two hours to go before we arrived at our village destination. Suddenly, I realized that we were headed for a safari experience. After another bumpy two hours through what seemed to be jungle, we finally entered a clearing. There stood a group of children who suddenly broke into wild, excited chanting, as if they had just experienced the end of a long anticipation.
AN ARMY OF SHEEP LED BY A LION WILL ALWAYS
DEFEAT AN ARMY OF LIONS LED BY A SHEEP.
As we came to a noisy stop, a group of happy men emerged from a large thatched hut. They were led by a gentle man wearing a welcoming smile and simple clothing.
We embraced, and he invited me in to the grass-roofed building in which over three hundred men and women sat eagerly waiting for us to begin the teaching session. I was deeply humbled by the hunger and patience of these beautiful people, and I gave them my best. It was a joy to be so well received.
After the session, the chief of the village invited me to a special dinner in my honor where I was treated to cuisines traditional to village life and culture—some familiar to me and some not. It was during this meal that the chief told me the story that taught me a lesson in leadership I will never forget.
A LION AMONG SHEEP
There was once a farmer who lived in this village and also was a herder of sheep. One day, he took his sheep out to pasture, and while they were grazing, he suddenly heard a strange noise coming from a patch of grass, which first sounded like a kitten. Led by his curiosity, the old shepherd went to see what was the source of this insistent sound, and to his surprise, he found a lone shivering lion cub, obviously separated from his family.
His first thought was the danger he would be in if he stayed too close to the cub and his parents returned. So the old man quickly left the area and watched from a distance to see if the mother lion or the pack would return. However, after the sun began to set, and there was still no activity to secure the lion cub, the shepherd decided that, in his best judgment, and for the safety and survival of the lion cub, he would take him to his farmhouse and care for him.
Over the next eight months, the shepherd hand-fed this cub with fresh milk and kept him warm, safe, and secure in the protective confines of the farmhouse. After the cub had grown into a playful, energetic ball of shiny muscle, he would take him out daily with the sheep to graze. The lion cub grew with the sheep and became a part of the herd. They accepted him as one of their own, and he acted like one of them. After fifteen months had passed, the little cub had become an adolescent lion, but he acted, sounded, responded, and behaved just like one of the sheep. In essence, the lion had become a sheep by association. He had lost himself and become one of them.
One hot day, four years later, the shepherd sat on a rock, taking refuge in the slight shade of a leafless tree. He watched over his flock as they waded into the quiet, flowing water of a river to drink. The lion who thought he was a sheep followed them in to the water to drink. Suddenly, just across the river, there appeared out of the thick jungle bush a large beast that the lion cub had never seen before. The sheep panicked and, as if under the spell of some survival instinct, leaped out of the water and dashed toward the direction of the farm. They never stopped until they were all safely huddled behind the fence of the pen. Strangely, the lion cub, who was now a grown lion, was also huddled with them, stricken with fear.
While the flock scrambled for the safety of the farm, the beast made a sound that seemed to shake the forest. When he lifted his head above the tall grass, the shepherd could see that he held in his blood-drenched mouth the lifeless body of a lamb from the flock. The man knew that danger had returned to his part of the forest.
Seven days passed without further incident, and then, while the flock grazed, the young lion went down to the river to drink. As he bent over the water, he suddenly panicked and ran wildly toward the farmhouse for safety. The sheep did not run and wondered why he had, while the lion wondered why the sheep had not run since he had seen the beast again. After a while, the young lion went slowly back to the flock and then to the water to drink again. Once more, he saw the beast and froze in panic. It was his own reflection in the water.
While he tried to understand what he was seeing, suddenly, the beast appeared out of the jungle again. The flock dashed with breakneck speed toward the farmhouse, but before the young lion could move, the beast stepped in the water toward him and made that deafening sound that filled the forest. For a moment, the young lion felt that his life was about to end. He realized that he saw not just one beast, but two—one in the water and one before him.
His head was spinning with confusion as the beast came within ten feet of him and growled at him face-to-face with frightening power in a way that seemed to say to him, “Try it, and come and follow me.”
As fear gripped the young lion, he decided to try to appease the beast and make the same sound. However, the only noise that came from his gaping jaws was the sound of a sheep. The beast responded with an even louder burst that seemed to say, “Try it again.” After seven or eight attempts, the young lion suddenly heard himself make the same sound as the beast. He also felt stirrings in his body and feelings that he had never known before.
It was as if he was experiencing a total transformation in mind, body, and spirit.
Suddenly, there stood in the river of life two beasts growling at and to each other. Then the shepherd saw something he would never forget. As the beastly sounds filled the forest for miles around, the big beast stopped, turned his back on the young lion, and started toward the forest. Then he paused and looked at the young lion one more time and growled, as if to say, “Are you coming?” The young lion knew what the gesture meant and suddenly realized that his day of decision had arrived—the day he would have to choose whether to continue to live life as a sheep or to be the self he had just discovered. He knew that, to become his true self, he would have to give up the safe, secure, predictable, and simple life of the farm and enter the frightening, wild, untamed, unpredictable, dangerous life of the jungle. It was a day to become true to himself and leave the false image of another life behind. It was an invitation to a “sheep” to become the king of the jungle. Most importantly, it was an invitation for the body of a lion to possess the spirit of a lion.
After looking back and forth at the farm and the jungle a few times, the young lion turned his back on the farm and the sheep with whom he had lived for years, and he followed the beast into the forest to become who he always had been—a lion king.
As I sat there listening to this fantastic story, I was engulfed by the revelation of the deep principles it communicated relating to leaders, leadership, and the critical process involved in discovering and becoming your true self. I went away from that village with a deeper understanding of why it is so difficult for many individuals to make that transition across the river to their true selves. I suddenly understood that lasting change could occur only when it took place in the spirit of the mind. Without this metamorphosis, no amount of training, study, or education could transform a follower into a leader. In essence, a converted attitude is the key to a transformed life. Until this attitude change happens, the lion will still think, act, respond, and live like a sheep instead of the king of the jungle.