Leadership lessons from Confucius: coolness under fire

coolness under fire

子曰:「天生德於予,桓魋其如予何?」
Confucius said: “Heaven has bestowed me with virtue. What do I have to fear from Huan Tui?” (1)

How to react in a high-pressure situation when even the slightest sign of apprehension or fear from you could send you team’s morale into a tailspin?

You could do a lot worse than take your cue from Confucius’s reaction when he and some of his followers were being pursued by a group of assassins sent to kill him by Huan Tui, the top military official and power behind the throne of the state of Song.

Whether Confucius actually believed that he was protected by heaven or he was just putting on display of bravado is irrelevant. His coolness under fire was enough to calm his followers and give them all time to regroup and escape. If he had shown even the slightest sign of anxiety or hesitation, the outcome could well have been a lot different.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 22 of Book 7 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 7 here.

(1) Huan Tui (桓魋) was the most powerful minister in the state Song. He felt so threatened by Confucius that he engineered an attempt to assassinate the sage when he visited the state in 492 BCE during his exile from Lu in order to prevent him from meeting with the titular ruler Duke Jing. According to Sima Qian’s Records of the Grand Historian (史記/shǐjì), Huan ordered his thugs to cut down a tree that Confucius and his followers were holding a ritual under in order to crush them to death. After the failure of this hairbrained attempt, Confucius and his followers fled the state in disguise. You can read more about Huan Tui here.

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Changhua, Taiwan.

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