Myth and Management: The Golden Monk

We use stories to break down obstacles to learning…..

The stories that we have used in this series are meant to teach us that we are ultimately responsible for our actions and ourselves. We have to take responsibility for our decisions as well as our miscalculations.
We are told that we must exceed our limitations. But in order to exceed your limitations you must first know what your limitations are.
These stories will help us become more aware of ourselves – our strengths and weaknesses, our values and beliefs, our actions and reactions – because once you become aware of something you can learn to manage it better.

Leadership competencies are leadership & management skills and behaviours that contribute to superior performance. By using a competency-based approach to leadership, organisations can better identify and develop their next generation of leaders. While some leadership competencies are essential to all firms, an organisation should also define what leadership attributes are distinctive to the particular organisation to create competitive advantage. However, skills needed for a particular position may change depending on the specific leadership level in the organisation. By using a competency approach, organisations can determine what positions at which levels require specific competencies. Competencies are the skills, knowledge and behaviours that lead to successful performance.

The following stories look at some of the leadership and management competencies (“The Value-Added Employee,” by Edward J. Cripe and Richard S. Mansfield, Copyright 2002 by Workitect Inc) that are necessary in today’s modern and successful organisation.


Once upon a time there lived a merchant who had at one tigold monk | myth and managementme been very rich. Unfortunately because of some bad decisions he lost all his wealth. But his poverty made him so unhappy that that was all he could think of – waking, sleeping, eating, drinking – all he thought of was money.

One night he had a strange dream. In his dream a voice said to him ‘tomorrow morning at 11am a monk will come to your house. He is not really a monk; he is actually all of your money in disguise. Hit him over the head with a stick and he will change back into all your lost gold’.

The next morning the merchant decided to wait outside his house for the monk. He was very anxious, he didn’t want to take a chance of missing him by mistake. On the dot of 11am a monk arrived at the house. The merchant hit him on the head with a stick and there in front of his delighted eyes the man fell to the floor and turned into a great pile of gold.

Now just as all this happened a barber was walking past the merchant’s house and he thought ‘what a great way to make money!’ So the barber ran up to the temple and under pretext of wanting to feed the monks he invited a few of them to his house the next morning. As soon as the monks arrived the barber started to beat them over the head with sticks. You can imagine the chaos. Some of them died from being beaten others were badly injured and bleeding. Everyone was shouting. A solider that was walking nearby heard the commotion. He came running onto the scene and immediately arrested the barber and took him into court where the judge convicted him. The barber tried to explain that he was just using the same technique to make money as he watched the merchant do but no one listened and he was sentenced to death.


Imitation is the root of all evil. Create your own strategies for success. Another’s success is not your success.

This falls into the Self-Management competency

Personal Credibility: Demonstrated concern that one be perceived as responsible, reliable, and trustworthy.

  • Does what he/she commits to doing.
  • Respects the confidentiality of information or concerns shared by others.
  • Is honest and forthright with people.
  • Carries his/her fair share of the workload.
  • Takes responsibility for own mistakes; does not blame others.
  • Conveys a command of the relevant facts and information.

Flexibility: Openness to different and new ways of doing things; willingness to modify one’s preferred way of doing things.

  • Is able to see the merits of perspectives other than his/her own.
  • Demonstrates openness to new organisational structures, procedures, and technology.
  • Switches to a different strategy when an initially selected one is unsuccessful.
  • Demonstrates willingness to modify a strongly held position in the face of contrary evidence.

For most people this story has a very straightforward learning. Don’t be a copy -cat. Repeating what the other person is doing without understanding or knowledge will not do you any good.
Now actually pause and think what that sentence signifies. It is quite common for us to use a tried and tested model to approach a similar issue. After all look how many ‘successful’ people write self- help books advising you on what they have done in order to achieve the same success. Or how often you have said ‘well, it worked for them, why not for me!’
Most of us do it every day and often almost automatically, without even thinking. Let’s face it, if you had seen a monk turn into a pile of gold at the mere whack of a stick on the head would you not have been tempted to try it? I can bet that there are many out there who would not even have waited to see it for themselves; a second hand would have been enough to make them try it out. It is human instinct.
This is why I want to you to really look at the story again – carefully – from a personal perspective. As we listen to the story we automatically tend to focus on the last part of the story – the barber and his actions. We forget about the merchant and the sequence of events.
The merchant is aware of his goals and follows them through with the actions best suited to the completion of his goal – he builds his business, he goes through the ups and downs of business and finally when he understands what he has to do to reverse the ‘down’ he puts his strategy in place and follows it carefully and reasonably. His task is to strike one monk who will come to him at a specific time and he contains himself to that one monk. He does not pre-empt the arrival of the monk by going to the temple, he does not look for more monks. The merchant understands his task and sticks to it and receives a large reward for his work.
The barber in contrast has no idea what were the circumstances that led to this reward was and he makes no attempt to find out if he has set everything in place to achieve the same result. He invites several monks to his house – if one monk equals one pile of gold then many monks must equal many piles of gold – and proceeds to beat them all in an indiscriminate and unrestrained manner. He displays a lack of thinking in his actions, which eventually results in a great deal of misery for all concerned.
The barber has set himself up to fail from the very start.
It is important to understand that you can build a business, not a business model. It is not possible to set a universal business model that can work for everyone. A successful business is the result of specific functions that lead to certain sequence of events and each function is unique to each set of circumstances.

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