Leadership lessons from Confucius: truly resolute

win at all costs

子曰:「吾未見剛者。」或對曰:「申棖。」子曰:「棖也慾,焉得剛?」
Confucius said: “I’ve never seen a person who is truly resolute.” Someone replied: “How about Shen Cheng?” Confucius said: “Shen Cheng is a slave to his desires. How can he be called resolute?” (1)

It’s one thing to be resolute in working towards achieving a goal. It’s quite another to become so consumed by the goal that you pursue it regardless of the cost to you and the people around you. Once the adrenaline kicks in, you risk losing all sense of proportion in your obsessive desire to cross the winning line.

The same principle applies to when you debate other people. Marshal your facts and argue with eloquence passion, but don’t descend into vicious argument just for the sake of demonstrating your intellectual superiority over your opponent. This may enable you to win the battle you’re fighting, but it will more than likely lead to you losing the war.

Being truly resolute means sticking firmly to your path rather than falling off the end of it alone.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 11 of Book 5 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 5 here.

(1) Shen Cheng was a follower of Confucius known for his love of argument and refusal to back down when engaged in one. Some of his peers saw this as a sign of him being resolute and strong-willed. Confucius, however, saw Shen’s need to win at all costs as a sign of weakness because it demonstrated his inability to control his internal compulsions. When put under too much pressure, Shen would very easily crack. This is the only reference to Shen Cheng in the Analects. You can read more about here.

I took this image at the Tainan Confucius Temple.

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