Leadership Lessons from Confucius: when the wind blows over the grass

when the wind blows over the grass

Ji Kangzi asked Confucius about governance, saying: “What would you think if I were to execute people who don’t follow the way in order to advance the people who do follow the way?” Confucius replied: “You are here to govern; what need is there to execute people? If you desire goodness, the people will be good. The virtue of a leader is like the wind; the virtue of the common people is like the grass. When the wind blows over the grass it will surely bend.”
季康子問政於孔子曰:「如殺無道,以就有道,何如?」孔子對曰:「子為政,焉用殺?子欲善,而民善矣!君子之德風,小人之德草,草上之風必偃。」

Harsh measures may sometimes be necessary to restore order to your organization, but at best they can only provide short-term relief. The only way to build a strong and stable culture is for the leader to set the right example for everyone to follow. If the wind blows in the wrong direction, the grass will bend in the wrong direction as well. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: when the wind blows over the grass

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: troubled by bandits

troubled by bandits

Ji Kangzi was troubled by bandits in the state of Lu and asked Confucius how to sort out the problem. Confucius replied: “If you could get rid of your own avaricious desires, they wouldn’t steal even if you paid them to.”
季康子患盜,問於孔子。孔子對曰:「苟子之不欲,雖賞之不竊。」

People don’t listen to what you say. They look at what you do. No matter how fancy the words and rituals are that you use to wrap your desire for wealth and power in, they will quickly see through them and take their cues from your actions. If you show that greed and theft are acceptable behavior, you can hardly blame others for doing the same. Moral cultivation starts with improving the self – not complaining about what others are doing. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: troubled by bandits

Leadership lessons from Confucius: do the right thing

do the right thing

Ji Kangzi asked Confucius about governance. Confucius replied: “To govern effectively is to do the right thing. If you do the right thing who would dare not to do it?”
季康子問政於孔子,孔子對曰:「政者正也,子帥以正,孰敢不正?」

The rot starts at the top. If you fail to do the right thing, how can you expect others to? If you proclaim a commitment to diversity and then give your best buddy a major promotion because he is “uniquely qualified” for the position, how can you expect everyone else to follow the new policy? Even if people don’t complain openly about your hypocrisy, they’ll find equally creative ways to pretend that they’re doing the right thing as you do. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: do the right thing

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: bringing out the good in people

bringing out the good in people

子曰:「君子成人之美,不成人之惡。小人反是。」
Confucius said: “A leader brings out the good in people – not the bad. A petty person does exactly the opposite.”

You have no greater responsibility as a leader than bringing out the good in people around you. That means spending the time to work with them to identify their strengths and weaknesses, and taking the necessary steps to develop and address them through mentoring, training, and assigning the right projects that will enable them to learn from experience. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: bringing out the good in people

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: turning an idea into reality

turning an idea into reality

子曰:「博學於文,約之以禮,亦可以弗畔矣夫。」
Confucius said: “If you expand your learning through culture and keep your behavior in check through ritual you’re unlikely to go wrong.”

It can be easy to get so consumed by an idea that you lose sight of how to turn it into reality. While the numbers may look amazing in the spreadsheets and presentation files you hastily cobble together and the initial feedback from the small circle of friends you trust enough to tell them about it is off the charts, your unicorn is just a twinkle in your eye until you figure out the actionable steps that will be required to let it loose into the world. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: turning an idea into reality

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: to the best of your ability

to the best of your ability

子張問「政」。子曰:「居之無倦,行之以忠。」
Zizhang asked about governance. Confucius said: “Execute the responsibilities of your office tirelessly. Carry out your duties faithfully.”

Even if you’re unhappy about the assignment you’ve been given, carry it out to the best of your ability. The more successful you are in executing it, the greater the levels of trust and respect you’ll gain from your colleagues and bosses. Once you have demonstrated your ability to deliver on your commitments, people will come to you with ever more interesting projects and opportunities that will expand the scope of your responsibilities and influence. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: to the best of your ability

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: after the horse has bolted

after the horse has bolted

子曰:「聽訟,吾猶人也,必也使無訟乎!」
Confucius said: “I can adjudicate lawsuits as well as anybody. But I would prefer to make litigation unnecessary.”

Why bother shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted? Focus instead on building a culture that prevents the steed from escaping in the first place. Rules are reactive by their very nature. They only address situations that have already taken place without identifying or eliminating the root cause. There’ll never be enough of them to cover every possible scenario that might occur. It’s only by putting the right principles, processes, and practices in place that you and your organization will become more proactive in dealing with potential problems and threats. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: after the horse has bolted

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: analysis paralysis

analysis paralysis

Confucius said: “Only Zilu could pass judgment on a lawsuit after hearing half the evidence.” Zilu never slept on a promise.
子曰:「片言可以折獄者,其由也與!」子路無宿諾。

It can be all too easy to postpone a decision in order to collect more data for analysis. The problem is that no matter how many terabytes you manage to gather, it will never be enough to guarantee that you’re making the right decision. Better to act fast and iterate than get caught up in an infinite loop of analysis paralysis. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: analysis paralysis

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: know your role

know your role

齊景公問政於孔子。孔子對曰:「君君,臣臣,父父,子子。」公曰:「善哉!信如君不君,臣不臣,父不父,子不子,雖有粟,吾得而食諸?」
Duke Jing of Qi asked Confucius about governance. Confucius replied: “Let lords be lords; ministers be ministers; fathers be fathers; and sons be sons.” The duke said: “Excellent! If lords are not lords, ministers are not ministers, fathers are not fathers, and sons are not sons, would I be able to eat even if I had food?”

It’s not enough simply to know your role. You also have to live up to the professional and ethical responsibilities that it encompasses. As a CEO, for example, your role involves much more than hitting the right financial numbers; building up a strong corporate culture that promotes honesty and openness is equally, if not more, important. That means, of course, becoming a powerful role model who sets the right example for everyone to follow through your words and actions. While you may not realize it at first, failure to do that will send your organization sliding down a slippery slope that will be difficult to escape from. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: know your role

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: drama and confusion

drama and confusion

子張問「崇德,辨惑。」子曰:「主忠信,徒義崇德也。愛之欲其生,惡之欲其死;既欲其生,又欲其死,是惑也!」誠不以富,亦祗以異。
Zizhang asked about the phrase “accumulate virtue, resolve confusion”. Confucius said: “Place loyalty and trust above everything and follow the path of rightness to accumulate virtue. When you love someone, you want them to live; when you hate someone, you want them to die. But if you want someone to live and to die at the same time, that’s confusion.”
It may not be just because she is wealthy,
It may also be out of a need for variety.

Pivoting is a sign of weakness not strength. Once you’ve set your course, focus on building up the capabilities and cohesiveness of your team in order to accomplish your mission. Of course, you’re always going to experience doubts about the path you’re taking.  But the more you’re tempted to divert from it, the greater the unnecessary drama and confusion you’ll create. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: drama and confusion