I’ve used this several times over the years to illustrate the importance of keeping the boss informed and having the courage to act on the fact that what the boss wants to hear isn’t necessarily what he or she needs to hear.
The Fable of the Ill-Informed Walrus
“How’s it going down there?” barked the Big Walrus from his high rock. He waited for good news. Down below the smaller walruses conferred hastily among themselves. Things weren’t going well, but no one wanted to risk his ferocious bark. For several weeks the water level in the nearby Arctic Bay had been falling and it had become necessary to travel much farther to catch the dwindling supply of herring. Someone had to tell the Big Walrus; he would know what to do. But who? And how?
Basil, the second-ranking walrus, well remembered how the Big Walrus had ranted and raved the last time the herd caught less than its quota of herring, and he had no desire to go through that experience again. (He had even been tempted to fudge the figures or breach the beach code to avoid the awful fallout.)
Finally Basil spoke up. “Things are going pretty well, Chief,” he said. “As a matter of fact, the beach seems to be getting larger.” The Big Walrus grunted. “Fine, fine,” he said. “That will give us more elbow room.”
Reluctantly, Basil approached the Big Walrus and after some small talk he said… “Oh by the way, Chief, a new herd of walruses seems to have moved into our territory.” The Old Man’s eyes snapped open wider and he filled his great lungs in preparation for an mighty bellow. But Basil added quickly, “Of course, we don’t anticipate any trouble. They don’t look like herring eaters to me.” Crisis averted.
Things didn’t get any better in the weeks that followed as more and more of the herd left to join the new herd. One day, peering down from the large rock, the Big Walrus noticed that a large part of his herd seemed to be missing. Summoning Basil, he grunted peevishly, “What’s going on Basil? Where is everyone?”
Poor Basil didn’t know how to explain this, but he explained it away as the herd getting rid of some of the “deadwood.”
“Run a tight ship I always say," the Big Walrus grunted. “Glad to hear that everything’s going so well.”
Before long, everyone except Basil had left. Terrified but determined, he flopped up on to the large rock. “Chief,” he said, “I have bad news. Everyone has left you.”
The Big Walrus was so astonished he couldn’t even work up a good bellow. “Left me?” he cried. “All of them? How could this happen? And just when everything was going so well!”