3 Crucial Leadership Parables Every Leader Should Learn

I’ve always been a purveyor of inspiring narratives, especially when the narrative holds wisdom that stretches beyond the limits of time or geography.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m likely to weave in a parable, fable, or ancient story into a boardroom meeting or a Zoom call. These kinds of tales have a way of sticking with us – no matter how ancient they may be – and teaching us invaluable lessons that can be applied in both our personal lives and professional endeavors. From my view, anything that stands the test of time should be something we use to learn from as we build our businesses, our legacies, and our lasting imprints on the world. There is a reason “truisms” exist.

In my own journey, I’ve discovered timeless principles of leadership that have played a pivotal role in my success as an entrepreneur and leader in both for-profit and nonprofit environments. They involve things like embracing the power of steady progress rather than obsessing over immediate wins, paying attention to even the smallest details to ensure things don’t fall through the cracks, and building strong, efficient, and scalable systems that can withstand the test of time.
And let’s not forget the profound impact that our perspectives can have on our outcomes. It’s remarkable how a shift in mindset can open up new possibilities and opportunities.

You can learn more about these principles in my recent article for Inc. Magazine, but there are still numerous leadership lessons that remain to be explored. Today, I want to share three leadership parables that perfectly align with these timeless principles. Together, they offer insights on how to cultivate a vibrant, interconnected, and forward-thinking organizational culture.


Letting Your Team Members Choose Their Tools

There have been many successful business leaders over the years who have helped to grow a large, efficient team. Howard Behar is one such example, who assisted in expanding Starbucks at a global scale and creating a culture that many leaders aspire to mimic. In a book of his, he once said the following:

“Let them choose the broom.”

I love this. Why? Because it embraces individuality and flexibility and it empowers the person who knows the job substantially better than I do. Employees are human beings, and each is unique in their own way. Permitting them to choose the right tools that work for them – rather than dictating what they will use – goes a long way in supporting that individuality and supports their knowledge of what it takes to be successful at what they do.

Why prevent a team member accessing such a great opportunity for growth by imposing artificial limitations or micromanagement? If it’s safe and sensible (depending on the application), I say let them try different brooms and see what works for them, what produces the optimum outcome and success. When we hire good people who want to succeed, they strive to find opportunities for improvement and don’t need to be told which is the right broom.

This approach can also be helpful for those living with disabilities or conditions that otherwise make performing certain tasks a challenge. Everyone deserves to feel supported in their roles.


Appreciating One’s Purpose

Ah, here’s a classic that never loses its charm – one that holds profound wisdom for any current or aspiring leader. It’s more than just a story—it’s a fable that takes us back to ancient Rome, where a man found himself amidst the construction of a monumental structure. Curious, he engaged in conversations with three individuals, each toiling diligently to contribute to the grand endeavor.

The first man, when asked about his work, simply replied, “I’m laying a brick.” The second man, with a touch more ambition, proclaimed, “I’m building a wall.” But it was the third man who captivated the visitor’s attention. With eloquence and depth, he shared his purpose: he was constructing St. Peter’s Basilica, aspiring to create a sacred space where others could experience the divine presence.

This tale transcends religious connotations, focusing instead on the profound context embedded within each response. Though engaged in the same task, only one individual possessed a comprehensive understanding of his role, recognizing the impact he would leave upon society.

The key lies in embracing and appreciating one’s purpose—a realization that elevates any job from mere work to a boundless opportunity. It requires a unique mindset, a genuine love for one’s craft, and an environment that fosters growth—the ability to see the larger picture and one’s contribution to it.

Sure, any bricklayer can mindlessly bring two bricks together, but it takes a visionary to continuously remind themselves that they are, in fact, erecting a cathedral that will last generations. The distinction lies in recognizing the significance of each action, no matter how seemingly insignificant, and grasping the profound possibilities that unfold when purpose and passion intertwine.

In fact, a study conducted by Harvard Business Review revealed that employees who feel a sense of purpose in their work exhibit a 125% increase in work performance and are three times more likely to stay with their organization (HBR, 2023). At Absco Solutions we start each new employee with an orientation about how what they will do at our firm contributes to saving lives with real stories of lives that have been saved by the systems we’ve installed. So, let us never forget the transformative power of embracing our purpose and infusing our endeavors with a cathedral-building mindset.


Embracing Change

I Have you read “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson M.D.? It’s a very quick read (coming from a very slow reader)- about four mice whose world is turned upside down. I highly advise it as a gift for that special someone who is struggling with an ever changing world and a deep desire to cling to the way things were but will never be again. Change can be hard, but when we embrace it and learn to seek it, and play a role in it, it is just as often invigorating, exciting, eye opening and something to face with enthusiasm.

Beautiful stuff, really. This tale carries real significance, resonating deeply with the complexities of change—the way we approach it, our willingness to embrace and adapt to it. Its relevance extends to the modern work landscape, where traditional office spaces are no longer confined to monotonous gray buildings. Remote work has become an enduring reality, and the integration of AI as a valuable tool rather than a replacement for the human touch stands as another pertinent example. Is it something to fear, take advantage of, adapt to, gain free time from, or perhaps all of the above?

In fact, studies have demonstrated that companies that effectively embrace digital transformation, including the integration of AI technologies, experience an average revenue growth rate that is 34% higher than those that struggle to adopt such advancements (Forbes, 2023). Thus, this parable resonates profoundly as we navigate the evolving landscape of work, technology, and the importance of embracing change with an open mind.

Let us draw inspiration from the mice who learn to venture out with a growth mindset and seek out new opportunities to learn, grow and prosper. Let us be bold in the face of a challenge, hoping not for easier problems but for sharper minds with greater growth mindset.

This article from the Harvard Business Review poses important questions to ask ourselves and others. Even though the questions focus on internal meetings specifically, they can be retooled to help determine the type of setup that would work best for you. I highly recommend checking it out.



I know firsthand that aligning your vision, processes, strategies, and leadership approach with these parables is a great way to ensure a brighter future. When the valuable lessons from some of history and literature’s most famous parables intertwine with timeless leadership principles, bolstered by strong core values, the stage is set for a forward-thinking enterprise.

Embracing the lessons of these parables, and infusing them into our daily endeavors, can guide us towards a future that is both prosperous and purposeful.

The road may be challenging at times, but I have full confidence that you and your team possess the resilience, vision, and collective strength to overcome any obstacle and create a lasting legacy. Here’s to your continued successes and a remarkable future that is ready to be shaped by your unwavering dedication and unique spirit.


Erick Slabaugh is a Serial Entrepreneur, Board Member, Advisor. He serves as the CEO of Absco Solutions, a 40+ year market veteran in the facility security and fire-life safety industry, as well as CEO of FCP Insight, a cloud-based enterprise software solution for electrical contracting businesses. A former member of the Global Board of Directors, Erick is a long-standing member of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) Seattle chapter.

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