The Wheel and the Light
Back in the third century B.C., the outbreak of fighting following the collapse of the Qin Dynasty had just ended. In its place now stood the Han Dynasty, whose emperor, Liu Bang, had consolidated China into a unified empire for the first time. To commemorate the event, Liu Bang had invited high-ranking military and political officials, poets, and teachers to a grand celebration. Among them was Chen Cen, the master to whom Liu Bang had often gone for enlightenment during his campaign to unify China.
The celebration was in full swing. A banquet grander than any ever seen was being held. At the center table sat Liu Bang with his three heads of staff: Xiao He, who administered the logistics of unification; Han Xin, who organized and led the fighting activity; and Chang Yang, who formulated the diplomatic and political strategies. At another table sat Chen Cen and his three disciples.
While food was served, speeches given, honors presented and entertainment performed, all looked on with pride and exhilaration – all except Chen Cen’s three disciples, who sat awestruck. Only midway through the festivities did they utter their first words. “Master,” they remarked, “all is grand, all is befitting, but at the heart of the celebration lies one enigma.” Sensing his disciples’ hesitation, the master gently encouraged them to continue.
“At the central table sits Xia He,” they proceeded. “Xiao He’s knowledge of logistics cannot be refuted. Under his administration, the soldiers have always been well fed and properly armed, whatever the terrain. Next to him is Han Xin. Han Xin’s military tactics are beyond reproach. He understands exactly where to ambush the enemy, when to advance, and when to retreat. He has won every battle he has led. Last is Chang Yang. Chang Yang sees the dynamics of political and diplomatic relations in his palm. He know which states to form alliances with, how to gain political favors, and how to corner heads of states into surrendering without battle. This we understand well. What we cannot comprehend is the centerpiece of the table, the emperor himself. Liu Bang cannot claim noble birth and his knowledge of logistics, fighting and diplomacy does not equal that of his heads of staff. How is it, then, that he is emperor?”
The master smiled and asked his disciples to imagine the wheel of a chariot. “What determines the strength of a wheel in carrying a chariot forward?” he asked. After a moment of reflection, his disciples responded, “Is it not the sturdiness of the spokes, Master?“ “But then, why is it,” he rejoined, “that two wheels made of identical spokes differ in strength?” After a moment, the master continued, “See beyond what is seen. Never forget that a wheel is made not only of spokes but also of the space between the spokes. Sturdy spokes poorly placed make a week wheel. Whether their full potential is realized depends on the harmony between them. The essence of wheel making lies in the craftsman’s ability to conceive and create the space that holds and balances the spokes within the wheel. Think now, who is the craftsman here?”
A glimmer of moon light was visible behind the door. Silence reigned until one disciple said, “But master, how does a craftsman secure the harmony between the spokes?” “Think of sunlight,” replied the master. “The sun nurtures and vitalizes the trees and flowers. It does so by giving away its light. But in the end, in which direction do they all grow? So it is with a master craftsman like Liu Bang. After placing individuals in positions that fully realize their potential, he secures harmony among them by giving them all the credit for their distinctive achievements. And in the end, as the trees and flowers grow toward the giver, the sun, individuals grow toward Liu Bang with devotion.”
Take the time to nurture your team members. As they grow into their potential they will remember and respect the leader who helped them grow.