August 5, 2005
Vol. 2, No. 31
Published Weekly on Fridays
By Leadership University
From the Founder – Mike R. Jay, Master Business
Leadership, Carrots, Eggs & Coffee Beans
I apologize for not knowing the source of this story.
If you know who to attribute it to, send me a note and
I’ll update the attribution.
First the story:
The daughter of a very wise chef complained to her
father about her life and how things have been so hard
for her. She did not know how she was going to make it
and she wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting
and struggling. It seemed that just as one problem was
solved another arose.
Her father took her to the kitchen, filled three pots
with water and placed the fire on high. Soon the three
pots came to a boil. In one he placed carrots, in the
other he placed eggs, and in the last he placed ground
coffee beans. He let them sit and boil, without saying
…In half an hour he walked over to the stove and turned
down the fire. He pulled the carrots out and placed
them in the bowl. He pulled the eggs out and placed
them in the bowl. Then he ladled the coffee out and
placed it in a bowl.
Turning to his daughter he asked. "Darling what do you
Smartly, she replied. "Carrots, eggs, and coffee."
He brought her closer and asked her to feel the
carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. He then
asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling
off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg.
Finally, he asked her to sip the coffee. Her face
frowned from the strength of the coffee.
Humbly, she asked. "What does it mean Father?"
He explained. "Each of them faced the same adversity,
212 degrees of boiling water. However each reacted
"The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. But
after going through boiling water, it softened and
"The egg was fragile. A thin outer shell protected a
But after sitting through the boiling water, its inside
"The coffee beans are unique however. After they were
in the boiling water, they became stronger and richer."
"Which are you," he asked his daughter. "When adversity
knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a
carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?
"Are you the carrot that seems hard, but with the
smallest amount of pain, adversity, or heat you wilt
and become soft with no strength?
"Are you the egg, which starts off with a malleable
heart? A fluid spirit. But after a death, a breakup, a
divorce, a layoff, a bad marketing experience you
became hardened and stiff. Your shell looks the same,
but you are so bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and
"Or are you like the coffee bean? The bean does not get
its peak and robust flavor until it reaches 212 degrees
Fahrenheit when the water gets the hottest. When things
are at their worst, you get better. When people talk
the most about you, your praise increase. When the hour
is the darkest, trials are their greatest, your worship
elevates to another level
Ok, I thought this was a good story and certainly has
merit in my view in terms of being a metaphor for how
leadership can be seen, but there is a major problem
with the underlying assumption—that once knowing this,
we can change from carrot to bean, or egg to bean. I
suppose if I had some more time or someone more
innovative than I could provide a metaphor for many
styles of leadership that would help people identify
them through analogy and metaphor. However, the same
underlying assumption remains—that we can change our
What the story doesn’t come out and say is that the
carrot has the identity of the egg or the bean, or
anything else. I believe this is ‘fundamentally’
critical to leadership. Because it is so difficult to
change our identity at will, I go back to the chef’s
metaphor, (as a chef in a prior life<G>)…in creating a
recipe that tastes good and produces high levels of
satisfaction for all involved, a chef learns about
ingredients. They don’t try to make carrots, eggs, or
beans. They realize that each identity has something
special to contribute and that when mismatches occur,
satisfaction and results plummet. I would suggest to
you that the story above has a wonderful metaphor, only
it is not seen at the level at which the story is told.
You have to look deeper into ingredients, the
identities of each before making up your mind about how
to tell the story of each, the carrot, egg and bean.
In life, work and leadership, learning about
ingredients in the leadership equation will lead you to
use different kinds of leaders in certain situations
and not in others. You can’t expect to use a carrot to
create coffee flavor or to hold up in boiling water….
I believe that leadership is evolving dramatically and
we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg in this
evolution. Many of the old stories, while enjoyable and
noteworthy hold deeper, more profound meanings about
the underlying assumptions that they are based upon.
Leadership in my view will begin to see much deeper
into the stories of our time and question the mythic
metaphors most of us have grown up with.
From the desk of Mike R. Jay, Master Business Coach
P.S. Please visit my blog a
thttp://www.integraleader.com/ to comment on this and
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W E E K O F A U G U S T 8
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