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  • Kick Ass Zombie Hunter

With Culture, You Reap What You Sow

Three house plants with middle one dying and "help me!" written on sign paper clipped to it

There is a parable about an old king with no heirs. He gave all the youth in his kingdom a seed with the instructions to return in a year and show him what they had grown. From their results, he would choose the next ruler.

One boy, despite his best efforts, failed to grow anything from his seed. Ashamed and scared (in one version he fears punishment and another for his very life), he still returns at the end of the year with his empty pot.

To his surprise, the king ignores all the beautiful flowers and trees the other children grew and proclaims him the new king. He explains that he gave them all boiled seeds. Only the boy was honest and brave enough to not replace his seed when it didn’t grow.

I used to like this story and its message of telling the truth even when it’s hard and keeping your integrity. It’s easy to empathize with the boy and his fear of failure and looking bad in front of his friends and the king.

But then I started thinking about the king himself. How he intentionally set out to deceive all the youth in the kingdom by setting them up for failure. Is it any surprise children would swap out their seeds when they couldn’t get them to grow when they may have feared the wrath of their king – someone much more powerful than them? The boy did think he might be punished or killed.

The children were expected to deliver big results with inferior resources in a high-risk situation with what appears to be little psychological safety. I’m not surprised they felt the need to hide their failure and lie to save face.

Rather than a powerful message about telling the truth, I think this is a powerful message of human nature under poor leadership. Reap what you sow goes both ways. When you create a culture based on dishonesty and fear, don’t be surprised when people act accordingly.



Fight workplace zombies in your organization and join Team Human! Gather a group of fellow workplace zombie hunters to discuss our most recent blog post. Use the questions below to kick start your conversation.

  1. Have you ever been in a situation when you feared telling the truth or sharing bad news? Why?

  2. What are examples of attitudes, actions or behaviours leaders display that make people feel uneasy about sharing mistakes, failures, or bad news?

  3. What are examples of attitudes, actions or behaviours leaders display that create a safe environment for people to share mistakes, failures, or bad news?


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