Contextual Maturity: The Race Horse and The Pig

While on holiday with my wife in the Golden Gate area I met a friend who told me the following story:

A wealthy farmer decided to invest in a very expensive race horse which he imported from overseas for over R20 million. Soon after the horse arrived on the farm he became very sick. The vet was called in, yet the horse seemed to grow worse. Eventually he became so ill that he could not stand on his feet. It reached the stage where it became clear that they would have to shoot the horse.

The pig overheard the conversation and he called upon the horse and told him his life was in deadly danger. The pig desperately urged the horse to get a grip and start to exercise, but the horse felt too ill to respond. The next day the pig overheard the farmer and vet once again evaluate the condition of the horse and they decided that he would have to be shot the next day

The pig once again ran to the horse and urged him to please get going and prove to the farmer that he would be OK. The horse was too despondent to respond.

The dreaded deadline day arrived and the pig once again urged the horse to get to his feet. He nipped him on the leg; he tugged him by his tail. Eventually the horse responded sluggishly and the pig led the horse onto the practice pasture. As he felt the grass under his feet, something inside the horse responded. He was a champion racehorse! He started trotting and eventually the trot turned into a gallop. He could feel his confidence returning in his veins.

The farmer was in his study, feeling despondent after making final arrangement to have the horse shot. When he came outdoors, he saw the race horse galloping around the paddock. He was amazed and delighted. He immediately phoned the vet: ‘Thank you so much, Frank, your treatment has kicked in. The horse is galloping and seems to be miraculously better. We are going to hold a party to celebrate the good news! Please come over. I know you like pork. We have a nice juicy pig that we can slaughter for the party.”

When I heard this story my heart went out to the noble pig. Obviously the farmer did not have all the facts at his disposal! How often as leaders in the work place do we miss out on giving credit where credit is due because we do not go to the trouble of getting all the facts? How often do we judge situations and people without going the extra mile to speak to them?

Over the past few weeks I have been involved in several key discussions involving the future of individuals and organisations. In each of these conversations various strong and opposing opinions were expressed. I was involved in follow up research of the relevant facts and in each case found that my understanding of the situation changed after being exposed to more information.

I especially recall one conversation where the available ‘facts’ seemed to put a senior leader in a poor light. He was not present during this discussion. After speaking to him the next day the situation took on a completely different context. He now appeared to be far more of a hero than seemed to be the case a day before!

‘All perceived meaning is contextual’

This means that the level of our understanding of any situation in life is determined by our contextual understanding. As our understandings of the relevant facts are expanded, so also will our understanding of the situation grow and mature. This rule also implies that the value we place on any person or situation is dependent on the context we place on that person or situation. I will not forget my involvement in a water project some years ago in efforts to help rural people gain access to usable water. In Africa several hundred million people do not have acceptable access to usable water. To the woman who has to walk 15 kilometres to get to water and then has to carry that water in a container on her head, water seems to take on a different meaning to those of us who can simply open the tap close by.

A sense of context is of huge benefit to a leader.

Not all leaders have a developed sense of context. A lack of such sense may be a huge disadvantage. We placed the following leadership gem in this column some time back. “As our sense of context grows, our personal perception of a situation takes on a significantly different meaning. The lower we are on the scale of contextual maturity, the further we project our ignorance and prejudices. The higher we are on the scale of contextual maturity, the less inclined we feel to judge hastily. As a general rule, no perception of a situation remains the same after we have heard the ‘other side’”.

How are we doing as leaders on the scale of contextual maturity?

This article appeared in the:

The Workplace




Adriaan, as an accomplished author and leadership advisor, has been interviewing and working with top leaders for more than 15 years. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of Leadership Platform. (Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP)

Call: +27 (0)12 653 3022

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Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


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