The Duke of Zhou (周公) is a legendary figure in Chinese history and Confucius’s hero for the pivotal role he played in unifying the country under the Zhou Dynasty (周朝) and putting the foundations in place for its social, economic, and cultural development while acting as regent until his nephew assumed the throne as King Cheng (周成王). Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Duke of Zhou
Confucius said: “Even if someone has all the outstanding talents of the Duke of Zhou, if they’re arrogant and mean all their other qualities aren’t worth looking at.”
Do you have the right character to make the most of your talent? This is an uncomfortable question to ask yourself, but also an extremely important one. After all, it’s impossible to achieve long-term success based on your abilities alone. You need to be able to complement them with diligence, integrity, modesty, generosity, and a host of other traits that will enable you to become a well-rounded person – or, as Confucius termed it, a leader (君子/jūnzǐ). Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: an uncomfortable question
Confucius said: “If people with a courageous streak find themselves trapped in poverty, chaos will ensue. If people without a trace of goodness decide their sufferings are too great, chaos will ensue.”
The harder you push people, the likelier they are to push back either by voting with their feet or openly rebelling against the system. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: relentless demands
Confucius said: “The common people can be made to follow the way, but they cannot be made to understand it.” (1)
Never underestimate the knowledge and wisdom of the people you lead. You may think that you have much greater experience and expertise than they do, but if you take the time to listen to them closely you’ll quickly find out that they have their fingers on the pulse every bit as much as you do. Perhaps even more so. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: elitist thinking?
Confucius said: “Find inspiration with the Book of Songs; build character with ritual; achieve perfection with music.”
If you’re serious about inspiring creativity and innovation in your team or organization, you could do a lot worse than making poetry a key element of your efforts. Poetry not only teaches us how to express ourselves more eloquently; it can also give us a lifelong love of language and literature. Its ability to encapsulate complex and often conflicting emotions in powerful and evocative phrases provides powerful fuel for our imaginations – not to mention a powerful antidote to anodyne official language. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: poetic inspiration
Zengzi said: “A scholar-official must be strong and resolute because his burden is heavy and his road is long. He takes goodness as his burden: is it not heavy? His journey ends only with death: is it not long?” (1)
Before you embark on a new path or project, make sure that you’re fully aware of what it entails. In the rush of initial excitement, it’s all too easy to underestimate the physical, mental, and emotional resources you’ll be required to draw on if you’re to successfully complete it. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: strong and resolute
Zengzi said: “You can entrust him with the care of a teenage orphan; you can entrust him with the management of a small estate; when faced with a crisis, he will remain steadfast in resolving it. Is he a leader? Of course, he’s a leader.”
Unlike an athlete who has a calendar of events to optimize their training for, a leader has to be in a constant state of readiness in order to be able to step up to take on a vital job or deal with a crisis at any time. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: a constant state of readiness
Zengzi said: “Capable but willing to listen to those who are not capable; talented but willing to listen to those without talent; viewing having as the same as not having; viewing fullness as the same as emptiness; accepting insults without bearing a grudge: long ago, I had a friend who practiced these things.”
Modesty and openness are the keys to achieving the golden mean. Whenever you meet someone, ignore your preconceptions about them and listen to what they have to say. Chances are that they have an interesting perspective to share with you and something useful to teach you. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: balanced and calm
Meng Jingzi (孟敬子) was the son of Meng Wubo (孟武伯), who first appeared in Chapter 6 of Book 2 of the Analects. Like his father he became a high-ranking minister of the state of Lu, but gained a reputation for micromanagement and an inability to focus on the big picture.
Zengzi, a follower of Confucius, scolds Meng for this from his deathbed in Meng’s only appearance in the Analects. He also upbraids Meng for failing to pay attention to how he appeared and acted towards other people.
Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Meng Jingzi
When Zengzi was seriously ill, Meng Jingzi came to visit him. Zengzi said: “When a bird is about to die, its song is mournful; when a man is about to die, his words are kind. In following the way, leaders cherish three things: by maintaining a dignified demeanor, they stay far from violence and arrogance; by maintaining a sincere countenance, they show they can be trusted; by choosing their words carefully, they avoid vulgarity and mistakes. As for the details of ritual, these will be taken care of by the functionaries.”
If you have the chance to impart some final words of wisdom while lying on your deathbed, what will they be? Will you rebuke someone you don’t even like for their failings or will you talk about your love for your family and friends? Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: final words of wisdom