The Cap Seller and the Monkeys: A Leadership Parable

(This is a post from several years back, but a good concept to think about over the weekend.)

124 hat vendor, Ipanema Beach

“As ye sow, so shall ye reap.” Galatians 6:7

Once there was a young boy who sold caps (baseball style caps) as a way to help his family earn money.  He wandered the streets every day before and after school touting his brightly colored caps.  His caps were hung on a line around his cart and made a colorful sight.

One hot day he parked his two-wheeled cart loaded with capsAnimal-pictures-monkey-wallpapers-hd-photos-monkey-wallpaper-5 under a tree to rest and escape the hot sun.  As he was sitting in the shade having a drink of water a troop of monkeys came down from the top of the tree and stole all his caps.  They immediately began howling and chattering with delight at their success and hung all the caps on high branches.

The boy looked up.  His caps were high up in the tree out of reach and the money to help his family seemed to be gone.  In anger he picked up some rocks and started throwing them at the chattering monkeys.  Seeing the boy throwing rocks at them the monkeys gathered the large fruit from the tree and began to throw  them down at the boy.  One even hit him on the head.  The monkeys roared with delight.

The boy sat down by his cart, dejected and depressed. But as he relaxed and his mind calmed, no longer filled with thoughts of revenge on the monkeys, ideas began to occupy the space where angry thoughts once had been.  Suddenly he had an insight.

He stood up, yelled at the monkeys to get their attention, grabbed his own cap off of his head and threw it to the ground.  Immediately the monkeys grabbed all the caps in the tree and threw them to the ground, laughing with delight.  Calmly the boy gathered up his caps and moved on.

Corporate Culture:

This parable illustrates one of the key tenants of corporate culture:  employees tend to watch and repeat the behavior of their leaders!  The monkeys were simply following the boy’s example: first by throwing fruit after he threw rocks and then throwing the caps down to the ground like he did!  Employees watch the behavior of the members of the senior team to look for clues on how to behave, what is really important, and how to succeed in the organization. After all, if senior executives behave like that it must be appropriate behavior.

The concept is called, Shadow of the Leaders.

When senior managers talk about the corporate values but behave differently, guess what employees tend to role model? When VP openly bad-mouth each other, guess what the level of teamwork is between their various functions?  When senior management rants and raves about profit above all other metrics, guess where employees focus?  When the senior team blames poor performance on market conditions, …… (you get the picture)

What shadow are you casting to your employees?  What behaviors are they repeating?  If senior executives talk negatively about each other, guess what employees tend to do?  They talk negatively about other departments!  If senior managers talk about teamwork but bitterly fight and complain about unfair budgets and allocations, guess how employees behave with respect to teamwork?

Be careful of the examples you set through your personal and collective behavior as senior executives.  It gets multiplied far down into the organization.

As you sow, so shall ye reap.

Written and Posted by:

John R. Childress
Senior Advisor on Corporate Culture, Leadership and Strategy Execution
Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture and FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid


PS: John also writes thriller novels

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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2 Responses to The Cap Seller and the Monkeys: A Leadership Parable

  1. Ravi teja says:

    John, what a coincidence that my 5 year old son plays the role of the Capseller in his school play tomorrow. We would finalise his dress today evening. I am going to look at his play differently after reading your blog.


  2. Ravi Teja says:

    John, my 5 year old son plays the role of a CAPSELLER tomorrow in his school drama. What a coincidence! I will look at the play totally differently after going through your artcile.


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