Do you remember Aesop’s fable on The Mice and The Cat?
The Mice once called a meeting to decide on a plan to free themselves of their enemy, the Cat. At least they wished to find some way of knowing when she was coming, so they might have time to run away. Indeed, something had to be done, for they lived in such constant fear of her claws that they hardly dared stir from their dens by night or day.
Many plans were discussed, but none of them was thought good enough. At last a very young Mouse got up and said:
“I have a plan that seems very simple, but I know it will be successful.
All we have to do is to hang a bell about the Cat’s neck. When we hear the bell ringing we will know immediately that our enemy is coming.”
All the Mice were much surprised that they had not thought of such a plan before. But in the midst of the rejoicing over their good fortune, an old Mouse arose and said:
“I will say that the plan of the young Mouse is very good. But let me ask one question: Who will bell the Cat?”
In today’s leadership circle, strategic meetings are organised to build a shared vision (the survival of the mice). Actions plans by various executives and heads of department are carefully thought out (to bell the cat), which could solve the problem or cut costs. But as Aesop has warned us, it is one thing to say that something should be done, but quite a different matter to do it.
In olden days, army generals are at the front leading their armies to battle. They are the first to be killed, but this form of moral leadership is sorely lacking today. Perhaps our armchair executives have very little idea on implementation and execution. Sacrifice is sometimes called for. Moral courage is sometimes in want. But only the leaders who walk the talk earn the respect of his followers.
Moral leadership also means standing up for one’s values. Black Police Officer Nakia Jones, on 6 July 2016, spoke up about the police shooting of Alton Sterling, before Philando Castille was shot dead in Minnesota. Her video went viral.
“It bothers me when I hear people say, ‘Y’all police officers this, y’all police officers that. They put us in this negative category when I’m saying to myself, ‘I’m not that type of police officer.’
I know officers that are like me that would give their life for other people. So I’m looking at it, and it tore me up because I got to see what you all see. If I wasn’t a police officer and I wasn’t on the inside, I would be saying, ‘Look at this racist stuff. Look at this.’
And it hurt me. […]If you are white and you’re working in a black community and you are racist, you need to be ashamed of yourself. You stood up there and took an oath.
If this is not where you want to work, then you need to take your behind somewhere else.
Put these guns down because we’re killing each other. And the reason why all this racist stuff keeps going on is because we’re divided. We’re killing each other, not standing together.”
Shortly after that, the Cleveland cop was suspended. We cannot be sure if she was fired. But she showed moral courage in standing up for both the police department and the black community.
Many decades ago, Martin Luther King Jr’s faith in love “was deeply shaken by Nietzsche’s writings glorifying war and power and proclaiming the coming of a master race to control the masses. It wasn’t until he was introduced to the teachings of Gandhi that King was inspired to live by the discipline of nonviolent resistance” (Kouzes and Posner, p. 394). We know what King stood for, and the positive impact he has on the civil rights movement.
In an organisational context, the Cat could be a symbol of corrupt practices, unfair treatment of employees, gender discrimination, mismanagement of resources, etc. When you see the alarm bells ringing, do you dare blow the whistle? Do you approach the offfender and confront them on malpractices? Do you stand up for what is right, or do you let it go, and let these practices “eat up” the entire Mice population?
1. Leadership Challenge, by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner