Leadership lessons from Confucius: a constant state of readiness

readiness

曾子曰:「可以託六尺之孤,可以寄百里之命,臨大節而不可奪也,君子人與,君子人也。」
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.

This means staying alert to what is happening around you even, or perhaps especially, when things are quiet, as well as having the ability to take everything in your stride no matter how serious or unfamiliar the situation is.

Since it’s impossible to know the exact time and nature of the problem you’ll have to address, the best way to prepare for it is to build up your resilience through a regular regime of physical exercise, education and training, and scenario planning and practice drills.

That way, when a crisis does eventually hit, you’ll be ready to deal with it in a steadfast manner no matter what it is.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 6 of Book 8 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 8 here.

(1) Zengzi is said be reassuring an unknown nobleman on his deathbed that he has chosen the right man to look after his son and estate after he passes away in this passage. In the text, the orphan is described as being six feet tall (六尺), which would suggest that he is in at least his mid-teens. The nobleman’s estate is described as being one hundred square li in size (百里) – roughly 33 square miles – so he must have been quite lowly ranked.

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

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