Leadership Lessons from Confucius: your choice

your choice

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?

Whichever path you choose, there will always be people sniping at you from the sidelines, as Confucius does here in Chapter 2 of Book 3 of the Analects. The question you need to ask is whether you would prefer to be criticized for breaking longstanding conventions of questionable validity in the modern world or for attempting to push the envelope further than others think possible.

It’s your choice. Nobody else can make it for you.


This article features a translation of Chapter 2 of Book 3 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 3 here.

(1) The Yong ode is song number 282 in the Book of Songs. According to the conventions of the rites, it could only be played at ancestral ceremonies held by the emperor.

(2) The so-called Three Families, the Jisun (季孫) or Ji, Mengsun (孟孫) or Meng, and Shusun (叔孫) clans, dominated politics in the state of Lu for nearly three centuries during the Spring and Autumn period. Confucius bitterly criticized them for their attempts to usurp the authority of the ruling ducal family.

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Beijing. You can read more about it here.

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