Leadership lessons from Confucius: the spirits of the hills and rivers

spirits of the hills and rivers

子謂仲弓,曰:「犁牛之子騂且角,雖欲勿用,山川其舍諸?」
Confucius said of Ran Yong: “Some might hesitate to choose the offspring of a plow ox for a sacrifice, but if a bullock has fine horns and sports a ruddy coat would the spirits of the hills and rivers reject it?”

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Open it up and learn more about what it has to say. The same principle applies to identifying talent. Just because someone didn’t go to a well-known university or doesn’t speak in a polished accent, that doesn’t mean that they lack the ability and drive to be successful. Indeed, the reverse is often the case, because such people are often more eager to prove themselves than ones who followed the conventional educational path. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: the spirits of the hills and rivers

Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Zisang Bozi

There is a lot of speculation surrounding the identity of Zisang Bozi (桑伯子). One popular theory is that he was a former minister of the state of Lu who gave up the good life to become a recluse or itinerant Daoist sage in protest against the corruption he saw while in government.

Confucius is said to have met Zisang Bozi by chance while walking around the countryside and appears to have been quite taken by his easygoing ways. This would fit with the overriding message of Chapter 2 of Book 6, the only passage in which Zisang is mentioned in the Analects, though of course it doesn’t mean that this theory is correct. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Zisang Bozi

Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Duke Ai of Lu

Duke Ai (魯哀公) was the hereditary ruler of the state of Lu, but had little actual power because it was concentrated in the hands of the Three Families, the Jisun (季孫), Mengsun (孟孙), and Shusun (叔孫).

During the course of his reign (ca. 494 to ca. 467 BCE), the duke attempted to restore the primacy of his family, but was forced to flee from Lu towards the end of it.  Soon after arriving in the state of Yue (越), he went back to Lu but never returned to the court and lived out his finals days at the home of a family called Shan (山). No wonder his posthumous name literally means Duke Sadness! Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Duke Ai of Lu

Leadership lessons from Confucius: nine hundred measures of grain

nine hundred measures of grain

原思為之宰,與之粟九百,辭。子曰:「毋!以與爾鄰里鄉黨乎!」
Yuan Xian became Confucius’s steward and was offered a salary of nine hundred measures of grain but declined it. Confucius said: “Please don’t! Surely you can give it to your neighbors and the people in your village.” (1)

“What kind of salary package are you expecting?” This is one of the trickiest questions to answer in a job interview. Pitch the number too high, you risk pricing yourself out of the opportunity. Pitch the number too low, you end up feeling that you sold yourself short. Talk about being caught between a rock and a hard place! Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: nine hundred measures of grain

Leadership lessons from Confucius: an allowance of grain

an allowance of grain

子華使於齊,冉子為其母請粟。子曰:「與之釜。」請益。曰:「與之庾。」冉子與之粟五秉。子曰:「赤之適齊也,乘肥馬,衣輕裘。吾聞之也:君子周急不繼富。」
When Gongxi Chi was sent on a mission to the state of Qi, Ran Qiu requested an allowance of grain for Gongxi’s mother. Confucius said: “She should receive a measure.” When Ran Qiu asked for more, Confucius said: “She should receive a double measure.” Ran Qiu gave her five double measures. Confucius said: “Gongxi Chi is traveling to Qi with sleek horses and fine furs. I’ve always heard that a leader helps those in need; he does not make the rich even richer.”

The more successful you become, the more you feel entitled to special treatment at no extra personal cost. That’s why frequent flyer and VIP guest programs for airlines and hotels have become so extraordinarily popular. Who doesn’t enjoy having access to exclusive lounges, fast check-in and boarding privileges, and occasional upgrades just for flying a certain number of miles on the same airline? And who would say no if you were offered a free luxury weekend getaway in an exotic resort simply for staying in your favorite hotel chain whenever you hit the road. Despite what others might believe, business travel is hard work. You’ve earned your little treats, haven’t you? You’ll certainly never succeed in prising my precious Eva Air gold card away from my cold-dead hands! Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: an allowance of grain

Buckle up for the great autonomous vehicle race

asimba unmanned delivery vehicle

It’s hard work keeping up with all the noise and hype surrounding the great autonomous vehicle race. Will a winner cross the finishing line next year or in five years’ time? Everybody has a different answer to this question. Will the winner come from the US, Germany, or China? This is when things to start to get really interesting.

And will the ultimate winner turn out to be a company that doesn’t even design or manufacture autonomous cars at all but operates huge fleets of them like airlines today and wrests control of the all-important consumer relationship away from the world’s top global automotive brands? This is a strong possibility – but whether the likes of Uber and Lyft will prove to be the winners isn’t clear at this stage despite what they have been claiming in their IPO documents. Continue reading Buckle up for the great autonomous vehicle race

Leadership lessons from Confucius: a bittersweet moment

bittersweet moment

哀公問:「弟子孰為好學?」孔子對曰:「有顏回者好學,不遷怒,不貳過。不幸短命死矣,今也則亡,未聞好學者也。」
Duke Ai asked: “Which of your followers love learning?” Confucius replied: “There was Yan Hui who loved learning; he never vented his anger; he never made the same mistake again. Sadly, his allotted time was short and he died. I have not heard of anyone else with such a love of learning.” (1) (2)

It’s always a bittersweet moment when one of the star members of your team decides to move on to pastures new. On the one hand, you’re happy for them because they have found an exciting new opportunity and perhaps even a little proud at the part you have played in helping them to develop their character and talent. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: a bittersweet moment

Leadership lessons from Confucius: easygoing ways

easygoing ways

仲弓問子桑伯子。子曰:「可也簡。」仲弓曰:「居敬而行簡,以臨其民,不亦可乎?居簡而行簡,無乃大簡乎?」子曰:「雍之言然。」
Ran Yong asked about Zisang Bozi. Confucius said: “He’s fine with his easygoing ways.” Ran Yong said: “Taking your duties seriously while being easygoing towards the people might be OK. But being easygoing towards yourself and the people is going too far. Am I right?” Confucius said: “You are right.” (1)

You can be as easygoing as you like in how you lead your team, but they will soon lose their respect for you if you have no underlying seriousness of purpose. People don’t come to work for fun (though it helps if they enjoy their job); they are there to achieve something meaningful. If you are unable to chart a clear direction for them to go in, they will find someone who can. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: easygoing ways

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a seat facing south

a seat facing south

子曰:「雍也可使南面。」
Confucius said: “Ran Yong could take a seat facing south.” (1)

How would you describe your leadership style? Would you say it is hands-off because you empower your staff to carry out their jobs with a minimum of interference? Or would you say it is hands-on because you insist on carefully reviewing your staff’s work and making sure they follow strict procedures. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a seat facing south

Analects of Confucius Book 5: new English translation

Read this new English translation of the Analects of Confucius Book 5 to learn more about the teachings of China’s most famous philosopher. It provides colorful insights into the characters and abilities of many of Confucius’s followers as well as other contemporary and historical figures.

Chapter 1
子謂公冶長,「可妻也。雖在縲絏之中,非其罪也。」以其子妻之。
Confucius said of Gongye Chang: “He would make a good husband. Although he has spent time in prison, he was innocent.” He gave him his daughter’s hand in marriage.
Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 5: new English translation