Leadership lessons from Confucius: an unfair advantage

unfair advantage

子曰:「不有祝鮀之佞,而有宋朝之美,難乎免於今之世矣。」
Confucius said: “It’s difficult to survive in an age like ours without the smooth tongue of Zhu Tuo and the good looks of Song Chao.” (1) (2)

There are always going to be other people around who seem to enjoy an unfair advantage over others – whether it be an amazing talent, stunning looks, or a silken tongue. Rather than bemoaning your bad luck in the genetic lottery, why not spend your time and energy figuring out how you, too, can build your own unfair advantage that will enable you to get ahead in life?

After nearly thirty years of working in marketing, I still find myself shaking my head at how difficult it is to find people who can write clearly and concisely (including graduates of some of the world’s leading universities). If you focus on honing your writing skills, the opportunities are endless as long as you’re willing to work hard and look beyond traditional media career paths. Every company in the world needs people who can communicate effectively.

The same principle applies to many other fields. While special gifts bestowed from on high may give some people a head start in life, they are in of themselves no guarantee of long-term success. By making the most of the more humble gifts that you’ve been given, there’s no reason why you can’t close the gap and create an unfair advantage of your own.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 16 of Book 6 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 6 here.

(1) Zhu Tuo (祝鮀) was a minister of the state of Wei responsible for the administration of its ancestral temple and other ritual matters. Although Confucius voices his suspicion of Zhu Tuo’s “smooth tongue” in Chapter 16 of Book 6 of the Analects, he does go on to commend him in Chapter 19 of Book 14 of for the vital role he played along with two other ministers in keeping Wei functioning while it was under the rule of the louche and lascivious Duke Ling of Wei (衛靈公). You can read more about Zhu Tuo here

(2) Song Chao (宋朝) was a minister of the state of Wei who was famous for his good looks. He is said to have used his appearance in order to attract the favor of Nanzi (南子), the scheming and lustful consort of Duke Ling of Wei. Some of the more scandalous accounts suggest that he had an incestuous affair with her. You can read more Song Chao 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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