Leadership lessons from Confucius: a simple approach

easygoing ways

Ran Yong asked about Zisang Bozi. Confucius said: “His simple approach is fine.” Ran Yong said: “Taking your duties seriously while adopting a simple approach towards the people might be OK. But taking a simple approach towards your duties and your own conduct is going too far. Am I right?” Confucius said: “You are right.” (1)

You can take a simple approach in how you lead your team, but they will soon lose their respect for you if you talk down to them. People are a lot more sophisticated and knowledgeable than many senior managers give them credit for; they probably understand the problems and challenges your organization is facing much better than you do. If you are unable to communicate effectively with them, they will find someone who can.


This article features a translation of Chapter 2 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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