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.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 1 of Book 6 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 6 here.

(1) There is a lot of speculation surrounding the identity of Zisang Bozi (子桑伯子), which is one of the reasons why this passage is so fiendishly difficult to translate! 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 him by chance while walking around the countryside and appears to have been quite taken by his easygoing ways. Until, that is, his follower Ran Yong reminds him that Zisang had failed to live to his responsibilities to the people. You can read more about Zisang Bozi here

I took this image at the Temple of Mencius in Zoucheng, a small town near to Qufu. You can read more about it here.

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