The leader as lonely dragon: a parable of imposter syndrome

Once there was a dragon king, who lived in a cave on top of his vast treasure trove of knowledge and experience. Very little light penetrated the cave. Every day, the people in his kingdom would come to him to ask what they should do in their daily lives. For each of them, he would search through his trove to give them the smallest gem of knowledge he could; then direct them how to use it. He lived in constant fear that they might steal enough treasure to become wiser than him – so he was always awake and watchful.

The dragon was always tired. And lonely. He had not slept for years. Then one night, tiredness overtook him and he had a vivid dream. He saw another dragon, in a distant kingdom, with a much bigger treasure trove. This dragon’s cave was full of light. And this dragon said to his people: “Take what you want and bring back what you can.” The constant stream of people going in and out of the cave usually brought more than they took away. From time to time, this dragon would venture out into the sunshine and look down from the skies at what his people were creating. And he slept in peace, sometimes in his cave, sometimes on top of a mountain, where he could observe in peace how the people thrived.

The first dragon envied the dragon in his vision. He went to the mouth of his cave and looked out across the valley. Then the sun came out and temporarily blinded him. He went back to his trove, saying: “It’s just a dream.” He fell asleep for 100 years and awoke in a panic – where was his treasure? It was all there – the people had stopped coming decades before. But the gold had turned to brass and the gems to paste. And there he remains to this day, keeping guard on what no-one else wants.

©️David Clutterbuck, 2024


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