The Ceramic Cup

(Culled from “Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek)

The following was a speech by a former United States under-secretary of Defence at a large conference. 

As he took his place on the stage and began talking, and sharing his prepared remarks with the audience he paused to take a sip of coffee from a Styrofoam cup (paper cup, as it is called here), and continued:


“You know,” he said, interrupting his own speech, "I spoke here last year. I presented at this same conference on this same stage. But last year, I was still an Under Secretary. I flew here in business class and when I landed, there was someone waiting for me at the airport to take me to my hotel. Upon arriving at my hotel, there was someone else waiting for me. They had already checked me into the hotel, so they handed me my key and escorted me to my room. The next morning, when I came down, there was someone waiting for me in the lobby to drive me to this same venue, which we are in today. I was taken through the back entrance, shown to the green room (VIP waiting room) and handed a cup of coffee in a beautiful ceramic cup.

But this year, as I stand here to speak to you, I am no longer the under-secretary. I flew here coach class (economy) and when I arrived at the airport yesterday, there was no one here to meet me. I took a taxi to the hotel, and when I got there, I checked in and went myself to my room. This morning, I came down to the lobby and caught another taxi to come here. I came in the front door and found my way backstage. Once there, I asked one of the techs if there was any coffee. He pointed to a coffee machine on a table against the wall. So I walked over and poured myself a cup of coffee into this Styrofoam cup," he said as he raised his cup to show the audience.

"It occurred to me, that the ceramic cup they gave me last year, was really never meant for me. It was meant for the position I held...what I deserve is a Styrofoam cup.

This is the most important lesson I can impart to you all. All the perks, all the benefits and advantages you may get for a rank, position or (office) you hold aren’t meant for you. They are meant for the role you fill. And when you leave your role, which eventually you will, they will give the ceramic cup to the person who replaces you. Because you only ever deserved a Styrofoam cup..."

This speech moved me deeply, now tell me what you got from it. What lessons have you learned? Please share them in the comment box below.

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