The Story of the Cracked Pot

Recently I spoke at a coaching conference on the topic of “Leading from Within.” I chose to speak on this topic, because now, perhaps more than ever, I have seen an increasing need for School Leaders to pay attention to the inner work of School Leadership and for them to recognise that it is just as important as the outer work.
In a climate in which they are continually compared to others or given labels that suggest they are ‘less than’, School Leaders need to be aware of the corrosive nature of these external narratives and the degree to which they deride personal narratives of self-worth and value.
Sometimes it is hard for School Leaders to see the extent to which external narratives have shaped their own inner landscape and have caused them to doubt their own unique strengths, capabilities and contributions that they make to the education system. So, during my talk, I chose to illustrate this point with a story: The story of ‘The Cracked Pot’
As you read through this story ask yourself:
– Which aspects of this story resonate with me and why?
– How can this story help me to reshape my inner story?
– Who/where are the water carriers in my life? What role do they play?
– If there are no water carriers in my life, what can I do to rectify this?
– How can a ‘water carrier’ help me to change/edit my story as a school leader?

The Cracked Pot

There once lived a water carrier. Every morning, as soon as the sun rose, she walked from her home to collect water in two earthen pots that hung from a long pole that she carried across her shoulders. One pot was perfectly formed, the other, although the same shape and size as its counterpart, had a crack in its side. So, whenever they returned to the water carrier’s house it was only ever half full.
For years, the water carrier repeated her journey to and from her house collecting water from the river. As the years passed by, the cracked pot created a story in its head about its level of worthiness and inability to properly perform the job for which it had been created. Eventually, the pain and shame that it felt about its own perceived imperfections, became too much for it to bear. So, one day as the water carrier knelt beside the river and began her usual task of filling the pots with water, the cracked pot found its voice and said;
“I am so sorry. For years and years, I have watched you fill me with water and I can only imagine what a fruitless task it must be for you. As whenever we return to home, I am only ever half full. While in comparison, the other pot is perfect, rarely does it lose a drop of water on our long walk back to our home, but me, I am far from perfect. This crack in my side, not only does it cause me so much hurt and shame, but it must also cause you to want to get rid of me. Surely, I am only making this long, arduous job that you do each day, that much more difficult? I can understand if you are thinking of getting rid of me and replacing me with another perfectly formed pot.”
The water carrier listened to these words with both care and compassion. The cracked pot’s story of unworthiness and shame was not one that she recognised. For this was not what she thought of the pot. She knew about the crack, but did not see it as an imperfection, or as something that made it less worthy than the other pot that hung from her shoulder.
Gently she turned to the pot and said, “On our return walk home, I want you to look up and to the side of you. For too long, it would seem you have been looking down, comparing yourself to others and not noticing how you and the crack that you have in your side has brought untold beauty into my life”
Puzzled, the Cracked pot wondered what on-earth her words meant. She seemed to be suggesting that its story of lack, unworthiness and shame, was in some way faulty. As to how this could be, it could not comprehend.
However, the Cracked Pot trusted the water carrier. It occurred to it that in all the time that it had journeyed with her, she had never said a harsh word, never scorned or ridiculed it, but had always shown a sense of gratefulness and care when filling it with water.
So, on the return journey it heeded the water carrier’s words. It looked up and it looked out. In its former depressed state, it had not noticed that along the path that they travelled there was a dazzling array of beauty, colour and life. The water carrier in her wisdom, knowing of the crack in the pot’s side, had sprinkled seeds along the path. These seeds  were duly watered every day as a result of the crack in the pot’s side and the path that had once been barren and devoid of life was now resplendent with an array of beautiful wild flowers.
Now, the cracked pot understood. Now the cracked pot began to see itself in a new light. Now it understood that indeed it had been telling itself a faulty story. If its experience of being a ‘cracked pot’ was going to change then it would have to change the story that it was telling itself.
The author and storyteller, Geoff Mead puts it like this;

“We need to consider how our lives are shaped by the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what we are here for, because knowing our stories is an essential prerequisite to claiming our personal authority and to making our unique and authentic contribution as leaders”

No matter what Education policy makers might say it is my belief that the majority of School Leaders want to make a ‘unique and authentic contribution’ to their schools and the communities they serve. There can be no doubt that this is a task that day by day, seems to get harder and harder.
Policy and decision makers tend to say focus on the outer work and it will get better, it will get easier. It doesn’t! It is a focus on the inner work that enables School Leaders to find the strength, courage and wisdom to attend to the outer work in ways that are sustainable, holistic and deeply aligned to their sense of self-worth and vocation.


Without a doubt the pandemic brought many unexpected challenges for us all. However, one of the silver linings of the past two years has been a heightened awareness of what matters most for all of us. We learnt:

– The value of community

– The need to stay connected

– The importance of being supported

We also learnt that deeper connections matter, none of us can survive alone and to thrive and overcome the challenges of leadership life we need real, deep, and meaningful connections with others.

That’s why we have launched our new “Heads Together”, a new School Leadership community, designed to connect like-minded school-leaders and to provide a watering hole for inspiration, encouragement and support.

Our “Heads Together” Community is designed to provide School Leaders with:

– A vital network of support to help individuals manage the emotional strains and stresses of the role

– Collaborative forums for thoughtful exploration around timely and important leadership themes

– Inspiration and encouragement throughout the year to help keep leaders’ passion and purpose alive

If you’d like to find out more about the community, and how it could help support you in your role, simply follow the link below…

Learn more


One Response

  1. As I read the above 5 key areas of performance personal sustainability I began to embrace the story of the “Cracked pot” in a new light, I have loved this story and from the very first time I heard it.. and became almost tearful when conveying the story to my own children about the water carriers wisdom of utilising the perceived imperfections of the cracked pot to create a world of beauty.
    It is truly compelling..

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