Leadership Lessons from Confucius: your choice

your choice

三家者以雍徹。子曰:「『相維辟公,天子穆穆』,奚取於三家之堂?」
When the Three Families had the Yong ode performed while the ceremonial vessels were being removed at the end of their ancestral sacrifices, Confucius said: “‘The lords are in attendance, the son of heaven sits solemnly on his throne.’ How can such words be used in the halls of the Three Families?” (1) (2)

Do you follow a traditional career path, perhaps taking a few liberties on the way to the top to show your importance? Or do you create your own path so that you can make your own rules? Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: your choice

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: eight rows of dancers

eight rows of dancers

孔子謂季氏,「八佾舞於庭,是可忍也,孰不可忍也?」
When he heard that the head of the Ji Family used eight rows of dancers to perform in the ceremonies at his ancestral temple, Confucius commented: “If he is capable of that, what isn’t he capable of?” (1)

The higher you rise in your career, the easier it is to let your growing influence, power, and status go to your head and decide that the normal rules and conventions no longer apply to you. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: eight rows of dancers

Leadership lessons from Confucius: adhering to ritual

adhering to the rites

It’s good to be back in the peace and quiet of the Lincolnshire Fens. I’m hoping that the fog that has gathered in my head will lift so that I can forge ahead with my Leadership Lessons from Confucius project. This has stalled over the last few weeks thanks – I like to tell myself at least – a heavy working schedule.

One of the central concepts that Confucius promoted in his teachings is the importance of adhering to ritual (禮/lǐ) in building up your character. By repeatedly carrying out even the most mundane of actions such as eating or greeting another person in the proper manner, you build up a strong internal muscle memory that enables you to behave in the most appropriate way without even having to think about what you are doing. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: adhering to ritual

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: cultural appropriation and cowardice

cultural appropriation

子曰:「非其鬼而祭之,諂也。見義不為,無勇也。」
Confucius said: “Sacrificing to spirits that don’t belong to your ancestors is presumptuous. Doing nothing when rightness demands action is cowardice.” (1)

Cultural appropriation: this is the phrase that immediately sprang to mind when I read Confucius’s opening comment in the final chapter of Book 2 of The Analects. And yes, “sacrificing to spirits that don’t belong to your ancestors” is indeed “presumptuous.” The best way to respect another culture is to learn as much as you can about it and only take part in its traditional ceremonies and festivities when you are invited to do so. There’s no excuse for insensitivity. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: cultural appropriation and cowardice

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: continuity and change

continuity and change

子張問:「十世可知也?」子曰:「殷因於夏禮,所損益可知也;周因於殷禮,所損益可知也。其或繼周者,雖百世,可知也。」
Zizhang asked: “Can we predict the future ten generations from now?” Confucius said: “The Yin Dynasty adopted the rites of the Xia Dynasty; we know what was dropped and what was added. The Zhou Dynasty borrowed from the rites of the Yin Dynasty: we know what was dropped and what was added. If the Zhou Dynasty has successors, we know what they will be like, even a hundred generations from now.”

How to manage continuity and change? This is a key challenge for any leader. What elements do you need to add to your organization so that it’s ready to meet the challenges of the future? What elements do you need to drop that are holding it back? Perhaps most important, what are the core values you need to retain to ensure its long-term resilience? Without such an anchor, your organization will undoubtedly veer off course and crash into the rocks. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: continuity and change

Leadership lessons from Confucius: on trust

trust

子曰:「人而無信,不知其可也。大車無輗,小車無軏,其何以行之哉?」
Confucius said: “I wouldn’t know what to do with someone whose word cannot be trusted. How would you drive a wagon without a yoke or a chariot without a crossbar?”

Trust is the key to all human relationships. It’s the thread that holds families, communities, and society together. It’s also the reason why we buy particular products, remain loyal to particular brands, vote for particular parties, and work for particular organizations. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: on trust