Can a leadership story hide in the thin shell of a boiled egg?

I was 11 and had been freshly admitted to a military school in India, the UP Sainik School in Lucknow. Quickly, we learned the best meal of the day was always breakfast. At eight o’clock every morning we filed into the dining hall and queued up to be served.

A few times every week we got hard-boiled eggs. One rainy morning at breakfast, many of us found the eggs on our plates were cracked. As we broke them open, a thin yellowish liquid oozed out. Most of us concluded the eggs were bad and did not eat them.

After breakfast and the formal morning Assembly, our classes had begun. About an hour into the sessions, our Principal, Major HR Daniel, walked into the classroom, followed by a waiter in white livery. The teacher stopped the lesson and respectfully made way for Maj Daniel. The waiter put down a wooden tray covered with a large napkin on the teacher’s desk.

Meaning business
Maj. Daniel was a ramrod straight officer of the Indian Army’s Education Corps.

He was always crisply attired, in olive green uniform on weekdays. His slightly wavy close-cropped hair was neatly brushed back. He then addressed the students.

Gentle, but firm
He was pained, he said, that food had been wasted that morning. The eggs were good, he told us. He removed the napkin to reveal two eggs. He cracked one open and drained a little yellowish water into a bowl. Then he proceeded to eat a spoonful of the egg.

Maj. Daniel emphasised that our food was carefully sourced and cooked. Nothing bad was ever served. And then he gently but firmly laid down two rules. We would be served every item that was cooked for each meal. And we had to finish everything we had on our plates. Food was never wasted again.

Setting an example
Imagine the effect on 10 and 11-year-olds when the Principal comes into your class and eats an egg that you thought was bad. An example is better than precept. A personal example is the best by far. It was the first lesson I learned on leadership: Lead by personal example.