Leadership lessons from Confucius: how to handle a leading question

leading question

孟武伯問:「子路仁乎?」子曰:「不知也。」又問。子曰:「由也,千乘之國,可使治其賦也,不知其仁也。」「求也何如?」子曰:「求也,千室之邑,百乘之家,可使為之宰也,不知其仁也。」「赤也何如?」子曰:「赤也,束帶立於朝,可使與賓客言也,不知其仁也。」
Meng Wubo asked “Is Zilu a good person?” Confucius said: “I don’t know.” When he asked once again, Confucius said: “In a middle-sized country, he could be entrusted with military recruitment. But whether he’s a good person, I don’t know.” “And what about Ran Qiu?” Confucius said: “Ran Qiu? He could be the mayor of a small city or the manager of a large estate. But whether he’s a good person, I don’t know.” “And what about Gongxi Chi?” Confucius said: “Gongxi Chi? Standing resplendent with his sash, he could entertain distinguished guests. But whether he’s a good person, I don’t know.” (1) (2)

Don’t feel you have to answer a leading question. If you do choose to respond, then only give as much information as you are comfortable with sharing. No need to dig a deep hole for yourself.

Confucius would have been on a hiding to nothing no matter how he replied Meng Wubo’s inquiries about the good character of his followers. He was very wise to sidestep them by choosing to focus on their practical abilities and strengths.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 8 of Book 5 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 5 here.

(1) This is the second and final appearance of Meng Wubo in the Analects. He was probably trying to find out which of his followers Confucius would recommend for an official position he was looking to fill. You can read more about Meng here.

(2) This chapter marks the first appearance in the Analects of the follower Gongxi Chi. You can learn more about him here.

I took this image at the Tainan Confucius Temple.

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *