The Humble Servant……

There was a great King who ruled over many lands and had been King for many years.

He ruled with fairness and openness and was respected by his people.

One day his humble servant, his closest ally and confidant sadly died suddenly.

His servant had served him faithfully for many years and was respected by many of the Kings people.

The King now had to decide who he would appoint as his new servant, after much careful consideration he decided to appoint a young man of about 20 years who serviced the gardens of the palace, he could at times be a tad irrational but the King saw in him a good heart.

To the young man’s surprise he was asked to go see the King and was asked if he would serve him as his personal servant, of course, the young man was delighted to take up this position.

Little did he know the extent of the personal changes he would have to make over the coming years.

His first task was to clear the living quarters of the old servant – when he arrived it was filled with old books and old furniture, he immediately decided he would remove all of this and start a-new, “this all looks a bit tatty for me, surely the servant of the King deserves more than this” he thought to himself.

He cleared the room, keeping just one item he found on the floor next to the bed, it was a small notebook and when he opened it, on the first page were the words “The Humble Servant” and to his astonishment it was filled with personal notes from the old servant going back many years.

The young man popped it back on the floor and then threw himself into his new role and due-fully went about instructing the Kings people to carry out the Kings wishes as he had been told to do so.

Over time he found a certain taste for this power – before he was a grass cutter and now people had to listen to his words and do as he said, after all, he spoke for the King.

The Kings people started to protest to him about his new servant and the manor in which he spoke to them, but the King smiled, acknowledged them, told them he knew, and asked them if they would do their best to accept his new servant and give him time.

It wasn’t long before the servant started to be vocal with the King too, “Sir, the palace is being run incorrectly, the kitchen staff do not order enough food, how can we have the Kings palace run out of the finest foods, you must instruct them to order more food” the King looked at the servant and very calmly said “ok, go to it, if you feel this is important”.

The servant took great delight in telling the Chef to “order more food this time, the finest foods” in a authoritative tone.

It wasn’t long before the young man found the Kings people were not so immediately accommodating: “why won’t you listen to me, go and cut the grass shorter, it’s not short enough” he would demand.

The Kings people went again to him to protest and the King replied “please bear with him my good people” and out of a deep respect for the King they obeyed his wishes.

Meanwhile some were finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the servants incessant requests and demanding tone.

One day this became too much and they began to openly oppose and contend with the servant “you are arrogant and demanding, get out my kitchen” the Chef shouted as he threw a large pot straight at the servant.

As the servant ran out the kitchen to avoid the flying object he bumped into one of the cleaners “What an idiot…” he said the the cleaners “Who does he think he is?”, the cleaner smiled and said “maybe you had it coming my boy” and she quietly slipped away to her duties.

The young man reflected on this, the pot only narrowly missed his head and could have easily caused much harm, things were not going so well…….

As he sat on the floor of his room he looked down and saw the small book that he had kept and upon opening it up, he flicked through, and randomly opened one of the pages, in the middle, underlined were the words “we serve all, not just the King, the King serves all”.

He thought about what had happened with the Chef.

He flicked to the back of the book and there was an address scribbled in the back.

Curious, he decided to leave the castle, which he never normally does, and went to the address.

It was market day and the city was crowded, right in the heart of the city he found the address, there were people everywhere, he knocked on the door.

It was a middle aged man, about 5 feet tall, very thin “yes, can I help you sir?”.

“Well, I came to this house, it was, it was at the back of this book, to be honest I’m not really sure why I am here”.

The man could see that the young man seemed a little distressed, he invited him in.

“You seem distressed, are you ok?”

“Well, well, I don’t really know”

“You mentioned a book?”

He handed the man the book

“Yes, he said, this is my fathers book” the man said

“Your father?”


“Well, you see, I’m the Kings new servant and I don’t think I am doing so well”

“I understand” he said

“What is the problem?”

“Well, nobody seems to like me there”

“Ok, and why do you think that is?”

“Well, they just don’t, and it’s horrible, why should I go back and work with them, huh?”

“Well, you don’t have to you know”

“But, but, I like it, it’s just the others”

“What do you like about it?”

“Well, I am my own boss really and I can work as I like”

“Oh, I see” the man said before sitting quietly

“What should I do?” the young man asked

“What would you like to do?”

“I’d like to do better, I’d really like to do better” the young man said, with a sorrowful look on his face

“And you can my boy, you can”

“But how sir?”

“Well, tell me, what is your job?”

“My job is to serve the King”

“Oh ok, and what is the Kings job?”

“The Kings job is to rule the country”

“Oh ok, and is that what the King thinks his job is?”

“Well, of course, how could he not?”

“Have you asked the King?”

“Well, no, I haven’t”

“If you don’t really know and understand what you are supposed to be doing, and really take responsibility to find out what the King would like the most, how can you know?”

“Well, I suppose I can’t”

“Exactly, so if what you are doing right now isn’t working, maybe you could find out what would work?”

“Well, yes, I suppose that would make sense”

“Ok, so, do you think maybe asking the King what he sees his job is would be helpful to you?”

“Yes, I think it would”

“Can I come back and see you sometime?” the young man asked

“Of course my boy, I am at home most evenings, this is the best time to see me”

The young man promptly went back to the castle where he walked straight into the Kings room.

“Good afternoon Sir, may I ask you a question?”

“Of course”

“What is your job as King?”

“To serve all my boy, to serve all?” he said calmly, and with a tone of deep respect

“But surely you are here to rule over your people Sir”

“Yes, and I do, but this is simply a role I play in order to serve them”

“Oh” the young servant felt a crunching feeling in his stomach and he promptly left the room.

Later on he went to the King once more.

“Sir, you said your job is to serve all, did you really mean all Sir, like everyone

“Yes my boy, everyone

“Each person in my Kingdom is valuable to me and nobody is excluded”

“But what about those that murder and plunder Sir?”

“Well, this my boy is error, when we are shrouded in darkness all we can see is darkness, should I condemn them for being locked in darkness?”

“But you do condemn them Sir, you send them to jail”

“We must have laws of the land my boy, and there must be consequences for peoples choices, this is an important part of our learning, and some of these will genuinely see the error of their ways, and so our system is designed to help these people where we can, precisely because they are valuable to us, I have not condemned their value as a person, I have condemned their temporary choices, these things are different”

“I see Sir” and with that the young man left

On his way back to his quarters he noticed the Chef was carrying a huge pile of washing, he was a big, strong man, and as the young servant looked on as the Chef dropped off the washing in the laundry room and as the young maid thanked him he said “you are certainly most welcome my young lady, if I can be of service again, please ask”

The young servant felt terrible.

The shear extent of his errors were dawning on him.

He didn’t sleep all night and the next morning very early he went straight to see the old servants son hoping to catch him before he left for work.

Having briefly explained what he had learnt he asked the man “What should I do now?”

He gave the young man a small book and said “Well as a start write the words “The Humble Servant” in the front of this book and then take some notes, spend your life learning how to truly serve others”.

“Ok” he said

“If you wanted to, you could just go and tell them you were wrong you know?”

“But what if they reject me?”

“If they reject you, they reject you, we don’t get to control their choices, we only get to control our own”

“Right, ok”

“Look, we aren’t entitled to anything, we aren’t entitled to people forgiving us, but we can do our best to take responsibility for our choices, and whenever necessary, be wrong”

“Ok, that sounds good, thank you”

The young man went straight to see the Chef

“I was wrong” he said, looking sheepish

“I know” said the Chef

“I’m sorry for my behaviour” said the young man

“It’s ok” said the Chef

“You know, we all have lessons to learn, we all have unhelpful behaviours, what counts is our willingness to work on them, and our willingness to be forgiving of others while they work on theirs”

“Thank you” said the young man

“All good kid” said the big Chef

Later that week the young servant had the opportunity to spend more time with the Chef, he was astonished – the Chef ran a tight ship, everything was organised, everyone knew what they were doing, everyone knew the part they played, everyone knew what was expected of them, and they seemed to work together in complete harmony, “this is incredible” said the young servant, “we all serve each other” said the Chef “and we have a well defined process that works, and we serve that too”, we all keep our place, and we know what to do when we step out of place, we are forgiving of each other and we help each other get back into place, it just works

As the young servant went down to the fish mongers with the Chef he noticed he purchased whatever fish was left, he used up all the scraps and anything that may go to waste “why don’t you buy the finest fish?” asked the young man “maybe that’s a question for the King my boy” said the Chef

The young servant later asked the King about the fish “our Chef is a great Chef” said the King “I am not here to consume and waste but to preserve and protect, our Chef can make wonders from the scraps of fish that are left”

“But what about your guests Sir”

“Well, when we have honoured guests we do indeed seek the finest ingredients, by way of respect, we deeply respect our relationships with our friends and colleagues in other nations, and we respect the jobs they have to do and the people they represent, but while it is just us in the palace, we do not need all of this”

The young servant felt sheepish once more.

“So why did you agree for me to tell Chef to buy all the expensive ingredients?”

“Well my boy, I didn’t think you were really ready to hear what I had to say, you were, after all, right, certainly according to you anyway”

“But did you not want to correct me?”

“Look, it’s important that we help people to see their unhelpful behaviour patterns, especially when they can’t see them for themselves, in your specific case however I just felt that you would work this out, it was an important lesson, and you have a good heart my boy”

“Yes, you had got a few things mixed up, but I was confident you would work this out”

“But I was pretty horrible Sir”

“Yes, you were, but we do not need to dwell on the past now do we, what counts is what we do next”

“You may have realised by now that things work a little differently here, I am deeply invested in your personal growth, I want you to grow and I want you to succeed and I want you to learn things that will help you to make happier choices so that you enjoy your time here, and at the same time you cannot fail but to add huge value to our mission here”

“To serve the people Sir”

“Exactly my boy, exactly”

“I understand Sir, I will do anything you ask of me, I will clean the toilets, mow the grass, whatever is asked of me I will do, and I will do it gladly”

“That is very noble of you my boy and this approach will get you far, let me be clear on one point, nobody here is to simply blindly follow orders for the sake of it, part of being of service is to bring all of your talents, skills, knowledge and experience to work, if you disagree with me, say so, by all means be respectful about doing so, but do so, please do so, and tell everyone the same, we need what you bring, I need what you bring, I am only one man”

“Ok Sir, I understand”

“And my man, please remember something else, simply offer whatever you can, do not seek gain, and power, and praise, and acknowledgement from others, you do not need it, seek to humbly offer what you can offer, seek to humbly give what you can give, and if it helps others wonderful, if not that’s ok”

“Yes Sir, thank you Sir” the young servant bowed his head and walked out backwards, with not even a glance back at the King.

As he closed the doors he noticed a small plaque on the wall that said “A quick fire way out of conflict: be wrong”

As he sat in his quarters, looking at all the expensive furniture that he had ordered, and the fine garments the King had allowed him to purchase he felt a tad sick.

“I was so entitled” he thought.

The next day, he removed everything.

To his surprise he found that all the old furniture had been stored away in the basement and could be recovered, so with some help he put it all back into his quarters, “this seems so much more appropriate” he thought to himself.

As he was serving the King breakfast the following day he asked if the King would permit him a question “Sir, why did you not have me fired?”

The King smiled

“Oh my boy, we all have so much to learn, I appointed you and I had faith in you, had you not learnt this lesson, as I thought you would, then I would have spoken up, if you had failed to listen I would have been more bold with you in the hope of getting through, if you still failed to learn I may try one last attempt and only then would I have you removed from duty, you see I too once had to learn these lessons, and my father, a gracious and wonderful man offered me the same scope to make mistakes, he gave me plenty of rope and I try to do the same with others”

He continued… “What I have consistently found over and over again is that many people dolisten, there are many, many good people out there, and many, many of them are blind to their unhelpful behaviours, just like you were, just like I was, just like our big Chef was too, what do we gain from being intolerant with everyone? How do we grow like this? How am I serving you by being like this? Your lessons, these still slightly raw lessons will serve you well for many, many years to come, you will make a great and wonderful noble servant who earnestly seeks to serve the people, which in the end, is why we are here, so how valuable is this to our mission?”

“Well, I suppose it’s quite valuable Sir”

“It’s very valuable my man, now, go see to your work”

“Yes Sir, of course Sir”

“And remember, not everyone wants to serve, it’s our job to lead from the front and show them how”

“Yes Sir” said the servant, has be quietly left the room


Ultimately it is a (semi) fictional story, but still, let’s just examine some of the lessons we can learn from it:

  1. Performance management is so much more than a process and list of objectives – what we are trying to do is drive up the value each person can offer to the business, and do that in a way that is helpful for them and serves their ultimate good – if we don’t teach people about behaviour we severely limit our ability to do so.
  2. We can all be blind to our own unhelpful behaviour patterns, we all have them, we must have a way that we can address this, talk about it, and deal with it in an open and healthy manor.
  3. Being intolerant to mistakes doesn’t actually help people to grow, what we need to do is help them to see their mistakes and then help them grow.
  4. We need to create an environment where you can be safe and wrong at the same time.
  5. We need to learn a balance between actively pointing out unhelpful behaviour when it’s needed and not jumping onto every mistake, if someone is willing to learn often they will get there.
  6. It’s important that everyone knows what is expected of them and what good looks like, including what kinds of behaviours you want to see – there can often be a lot of confusion about what is expected.
  7. We cannot assume we know what others think, we cannot assume others think like us, have the same values as us, it’s wise to find out.
  8. We need wise teachers and guiders to help us grow, and they don’t have to be our boss.
  9. We always have choices, we are never trapped.
  10. If we want to influence this as scale we can, we need to provide a framework and set of principles with which to guide people with – we need a “datum” people can use, and then we need to educate people so they can guide others too.
  11. The laws of happiness and the laws of high performance happen to be the same, being of service, working hard, being discipled and organised, being forgiving and understanding, developing unity with others, all help us to feel stronger and happier.
  12. There is always someone we can be of service to.
  13. We may not like our jobs at times however we can all choose to simply serve the best we can.
  14. Our tone can have a significant effect on our communication with others, it’s helpful to be aware of it.

If you would like to learn how to develop a performance process that actually works then get in touch, I am running performance management workshops in the next few months, get in touch if you want to come along.

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All the best


What are others saying?

In a recent delivery to a group of front line staff 98% gave an agree score to the following question:  Do you think that having an EWS (warning) may actually be a good thing to help you grow even if you might not like it in the beginning?

95% gave an agree score to the question: Have you learnt something today that you feel will help you outside of work? and 100% to Have you learnt something today that you feel will help you learn, grow, and develop in work?

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