The Leadership Journey – 11. The Story of A Chair

Pu Yi's Throne In Changchun
Pu Yi’s Throne In Changchun

Pu Yi was the last Emperor of the Qing Dynasty in China before the Communists took over and China became a communist country. Pu Yi moved to Changchun in the 1930’s, and brought the Japanese in, with a view to reinstating the Manchu Dynasty.

He was, however, a puppet emperor, and while he ruled from the throne room, which is pictured above, he was a puppet of the Japanese.

In my younger days, when one of my sales reps was talking in terms that were extremely derogatory about an earlier manager, I stopped him, and asked him what caused this ill-will, as I had been under the impression that the earlier manager was a person who was idolized. Many people did model their beards on his.

The sales rep looked at me in disgust, and said, “Boss, who cares for the man? I only salute the chair.”

This, for me, very early in my leadership journey, was a real wake up call. What the hell did I think of myself? Was I all that hot as I thought I was? These were some of the thoughts that plagued me over the next few days, as I looked at the sales team with some degree of suspicion. Was their fawning behavior designed to make me happy for the moment, while they actually thought I was a real jack-ass?

Was I respected, or my title? This one simple dialogue stayed with me these many years, and the one thing that I took from it was that people don’t really care for your position. As a leader they care for the real benefits that you give them.

I am not referring to salary hikes and bonuses here. Did you help to build their capability? Did you leave the business in better shape than it was when you took it over? Did you build respect for the organization and the team? In general, it is things like this that they remember. Did they have fun working with you?

All too often we get so obsessed by our positions of glory that we forget that this is transitory. You get transferred, you move company, you retire, you get fired, your company goes bust.

Of course, your company can do well, you can get promoted etc!

Yet, when you move on, and when you hit a rough patch, it is then you realize your true worth. Do people speak well of you when you are gone? This is a fairly true test of what people really saw in you, and whether you are respected for yourself or for your position.

I believe that it always helps to remember that glory and fame can be transitory. It keeps you grounded, and makes you a better leader. 

Pu Yi was a survivor. As a prince, he was quite spoiled. He even had a literal whipping boy, a boy he could beat up when his anger tantrums overcame him.

Ultimately, he became a gardener, living a quiet life under the watchful eye of the Communist Party.

It was a long journey from The Forbidden City, to the Throne Room of The Puppet Emperor, to the life of a gardener.

The glory and pomp left his life, a Dynasty ended, and the story of a nation changed, as did the story of the people in the nation.




  1. This is such a sad attitude for some people when they only honor the chair. It really shows the mentality / maturity level of some and what they are able to see. They have sight (the ability to see with your eyes) but no insight (the ability to see with your mind)

    Great post.

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