We’re All Cracked Pots: Managing Employees’ Weaknesses

Cracked Pot

Man years ago, I had a great manager named Kim who at one of our team meetings shared with all of her employees a great story about a cracked water pot.  There are a number of variations of this fable, but here is the version she shared as I best remember it:

A water bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years, this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water in his master’s house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you”.  The bearer asked, “Why? What are you ashamed of?”  The Pot replied, “For these past two years I am able to deliver only half of my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master’s house. Because of my flaws, you don’t get full value for your efforts”.

The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion, he said, “As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.”  As they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it somewhat.  But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the bearer for its failure.

The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house.”

Moral: Everyone has their own unique flaws.  We’re all cracked pots.  You may think like the cracked pot that you are inefficient or useless in certain areas of your life or may view other’s flaws in that way, but somehow our flaws and weaknesses can turn out to be strengths in disguise.  This is true particularly when we are fortunate enough to have a boss or mentor who recognizes this and helps to manage us to succeed not in spite of perceived weaknesses, but because of them and in addition to harnessing our strengths.

In this day and age when so many industries are struggling to recruit new employees of all skill sets, remembering to focus on the employees that you already have and helping them to continually tap and build all their talents both seen and hidden should be an essential part of your employee engagement and retention strategy.  If your managers are not already adept at this skill, perhaps that is their own crack that could use a little extra care and attention.

by Kate Hadaway