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Leadership Lessons From The Stone Soup Fable

There are many variations on the Stone Soup Fable, but they all involve a kindly traveler coming into a town beset by severe famine. The inhabitants try to discourage the traveler from staying, fearing he wants them to give him food. They emphatically tell him that there’s no food anywhere to be found and that he should be moving on. The traveler explains that he doesn’t need any food and that, in fact, he was planning to make a soup to share with all of them.

The villagers watch suspiciously as he builds a fire and fills a cauldron with water. Slowly and with great care, he pulls a stone from an elegant silk bag, placing the stone into the pot of boiling water. He sniffs the brew and exclaims how delicious stone soup is. As the stranger sniffs the soup and licks his lips in anticipation, hunger begins to overcome the fear of the villagers. As the villagers begin to show interest, the stranger mentions how good the soup would be with just a little cabbage in it. A villager brings out a cabbage from a hiding place to share. He then mentions how he once had a stone soup with a bit of beef in it that was fit for a king. The village butcher manages to find some salt beef. This episode repeats itself until the soup has cabbage, beef, potatoes, mushrooms, carrots, onions, and beets — indeed, a substantial soup that feeds everyone in the village.

The village elder offers the stranger a great deal of money for the magic stone, but he refuses to sell it and travels on the next day. As he leaves town, the stranger comes upon a group of village children standing near the road. He gives the silken bag containing the stone to the youngest child, whispering to the group, “It was not the stone, but the villagers that performed the magic.”

Three Leadership Lessons

The obvious lesson from this fable addresses our tendency to hoard and hold back, yet when we work together sharing our resources, a greater good can be achieved.  But the story also serves as a metaphor for at least three necessary leadership attributes. The stranger in the fable modeled:

Vision: An effective leader is able to cast a compelling vision. The really good ones can cast a vision without people realizing it. The stranger in the fable, through words and actions, cast a vision for a soup that would feed them all.

Inspiration: An effective leader inspires their followers to take the right action, especially action they would not otherwise take. Not only did the stranger cast a compelling vision, but he also inspired the villagers to take action against their instinct to accomplish the vision for a delicious soup that would feed them all.

Teamwork: An effective leader knows how to lead a group of individuals to synergistically combine their gifts and resources to achieve something bigger than themselves. The traveler had the ability to cast a vision, inspire people to action, and then get them to work together to create a spread that none of them could have created alone.

The Stone Soup Fable also offers a contrast between the abundance mentality of the stranger and the scarcity mentality of the villagers. In the coming weeks we will explore the difference between abundance and scarcity mentality, the pros and cons of each, and how they both are necessary mindsets for leaders and managers. We will show how abundance mentality is a pre-requisite for effective leadership. Without it there is no compelling vision. How scarcity mentality is a pre-requisite for effective management. Without it there is no synergism. And that without both working in tandem, there is no growth or maximizing of resources.



Posted on May 31, 2022

Jim Baker

Jim is a Church Organizational Leadership and Management Coach, Consultant and Trainer. Throughout his career Jim has demonstrated a passion for showing Pastors and Ministers how to use organizational tools for church and personal growth and health.

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“For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:5