Can you tell the difference between opportunity and disaster? The Parable of the Taoist Farmer:

Taoist Farmer

There was once a farmer in ancient China who owned a horse. “You are so lucky to have a horse when none of us do!” his neighbours told him. “Maybe so,” the farmer replied.

One day he left the gate open and the horse ran away. “That is terrible news!” his neighbours cried, “Such bad luck!” “Maybe so,” the farmer replied.

A few days later the horse returned, bringing six wild horses with it. “How fantastic! You are so lucky.” his neighbours told him. “Maybe so,” the farmer replied.

The following week the farmer’s son was breaking-in one of the wild horses when suddenly he was thrown to the ground, breaking his leg. “Ah no!” the neighbours cried again. “Such bad luck, all over again!” “Maybe so,” the farmer replied.

The next day soldiers came and took away all the young men to fight in the army. The farmer’s son was left behind. “You are so lucky!” his neighbours cried. “Maybe so,” the farmer replied.

The point is that there is no such thing as a situation that is intrinsically ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Every situation contains the potential for becoming ‘opportunity’ and ‘disaster’. We can never know how things are going to turn out, or when a disadvantage might become an advantage. This has consequences for both our inner and our outer leadership.

Chapter 3 of inner leadership shows how to look for the opportunities in any situation, identifying ten specific types of opportunity.

Chapter 2 of outer leadership teaches us to focus not on predicting exactly what is going to happen, but on understanding what will be the key success factors if it does.

The philosophy of leadership that best aligns with this worldview is the one described by Abraham Lincoln.

Photo By Quinn Dombrowski via

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