Leadership lessons from Confucius: a fine line

a fine line

子曰:「道不行,乘桴浮於海。從我者,其由與?」子路聞之喜。子曰:「由也好勇過我,無所取材。」
Confucius said: “If the way doesn’t prevail, I’ll take a raft and put out to sea. I’m sure Zilu will come with me.” When he heard this, Zilu was delighted. Confucius said: “Zilu is much braver than I am, but he brings no materials to make the raft with.” (1)

There’s a fine line between engaging in friendly banter and making a hurtful comment. Confucius just about manages to stay on the right side of it with his dig at Zilu for his impetuousness, but the margin is at best a very fine one. Surely, his faithful follower deserves at least a pinch of gratitude from the sage for his eagerness to give up everything he’s doing and accompany Confucius on a perilous voyage to almost certain death! Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: a fine line

Leadership lessons from Confucius: you can lead a horse to water

you can lead a horse to water

子使漆雕開仕。對曰:「吾斯之未能信。」子說。
When Confucius recommended that Qidiao Kai should seek an official position, he replied: “I’m not ready to be trusted for such a responsibility yet.” Confucius was delighted. (1)

How to react when a colleague, friend, or family member refuses to accept your advice? Do you urge them to reconsider their decision or are you happy to let them follow their own path? Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: you can lead a horse to water

Followers of Confucius: Qidiao Kai

Although Qidiao Kai (漆雕開) only makes a single appearance in the Analects, he was a highly influential disciple who went to establish his own school, which became one of the eight branches of Confucianism identified by the philosopher Han Fei (韓非) in the third century BCE. Continue reading Followers of Confucius: Qidiao Kai

Leadership lessons from Confucius: what use is eloquence?

what use is eloquence?

或曰:「雍也仁而不佞。」子曰:「焉用佞?御人以口給,屢憎於人。不知其仁,焉用佞?」
Someone said: “Ran Yong is good but not eloquent.” Confucius said: “What use is eloquence? A smooth tongue creates many enemies. I don’t know whether Ran Yong is good; but he definitely has no need for eloquence.” (1)

The ability to speak clearly and persuasively is vital for getting on in the world no matter what profession you are in. People who speak confidently are far more likely to be regarded more favorably than their shy or tongue-twisted counterparts even though they probably know a lot less about what they are talking about than the ones who sit quietly besides them. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: what use is eloquence?

Leadership lessons from Confucius: a precious sacrificial utensil

a precious sacrificial utensil

子貢問曰:「賜也何如?」子曰:「女器也。」曰:「何器也?」曰:「瑚璉也。」
Zigong asked: “What do you think of me?” Confucius said: “You’re a utensil.” “What sort of utensil?” “A precious sacrificial utensil.” (1) (2)

Just because someone asks you a straight question, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they want you to give them a straight answer. Consider the possible reasons they may be raising the question before blurting out an answer and having to hastily correct yourself like Confucius does in this passage. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: a precious sacrificial utensil

Followers of Confucius: Zijian

Zijian (子賤), also known by his courtesy name of Fu Buji (宓不齊), was born in 521 BCE in the state of Lu and was 49 years younger than Confucius.

After studying under the sage, he served as the chief magistrate (宰/zǎi) of Danfu (單父) in modern-day Shandong province and achieved such a good reputation that Confucius describes him as a true leader in Chapter 3 of Book 5 of the Analects. Continue reading Followers of Confucius: Zijian

Analects of Confucius Book 5: resources

Book 5 is a very different beast to the previous four books of the Analects in that it features a compilation of Confucius’s opinions on a dozen of his followers plus no less than fourteen contemporary and historical figures. You can click on the links below to learn more about this colorful cast of characters and read Confucius’s acerbic comments on some of them. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 5: resources

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: nurturing leadership talent

nurturing leadership talent

子謂子賤,「君子哉若人!魯無君子者,斯焉取斯?」
Confucius said of Zijian: “He is a true leader! If there were indeed no leaders in the state of Lu, how would he have reached this level?” (1)

Are great leaders born or made? While there’ll probably never be a definitive answer to that question, creating an environment that promotes personal growth and development can certainly help people to acquire the necessary skills and attributes for taking on a leadership role. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: nurturing leadership talent

Leadership lessons from Confucius: a sensible choice

sensible choice

子謂南容,「邦有道不廢,邦無道免於刑戮。」以其兄之子妻之。
Confucius said of Nan Rong: “In a well-governed state, he will not be overlooked for an official position. In a badly-governed state, he will avoid punishment and disgrace.” Confucius arranged for him to marry his niece. (1) (2)

What are the qualities you would prize in a business or life partner? Would you look for someone who is more outgoing and ambitious than you are to move things forward faster than you would be able to? Or would you go for someone who is calmer and more measured than you are who would bring more stability to the union? Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: a sensible choice

Analects of Confucius Book 4: by numbers

Analects of Confucius Book 4: by numbers

As in Book 2 and Book 3, Confucius dominates Book 4 of the Analects with the curious exceptions of Chapter 15, in which his younger follower Zengzi steps in to clarify the meaning of his words, and Chapter 26, where his follower Ziyou takes the reins. The only plausible explanation for these two anomalies is that they were slipped in by unscrupulous or careless editors.  Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 4: by numbers