Leadership lessons from Confucius: the chosen one?

chosen one

When Confucius was trapped in Kuang, he said: “King Wen is dead, but the civilization he created lives on with me, doesn’t it? If heaven wished civilization to be destroyed, why was it entrusted to me? If heaven doesn’t wish civilization to be destroyed, what do I have to fear from the people of Kuang?”

How to boost your personal brand? This is becoming a tougher challenge than ever before in the raucous and rancorous times we live in. A few mood shots in an exotic location posted on Instagram are nowhere near enough to cut through the noise. Not even a regular stream of thought leadership pieces is likely to be noticed amid the relentless cacophony that roils the online world – unless (and even this approach isn’t guaranteed) you’re willing to stoop to posting something incredibly offensive or stupid.

Rather than try to be louder than everyone else, focus your efforts on figuring out how to position yourself more effectively. Ask yourself what makes you truly different and what unique qualities you bring to the table that will attract people to pay attention to you.

Don’t be too modest either. In positioning himself, Confucius aimed for the skies with his claim of being the chosen one entrusted with the restoration of the great Zhou culture established by the dynasty’s founding father King Wen and perfected by the king’s fourth son, the Duke of Zhou. Even though there were many skeptics, Confucius skillfully leveraged his self-proclaimed status to make himself one of the most renowned personalities of his age – not to mention escaping from dangerous scrapes like the one he encountered in Kuang.

It is of course impossible to know whether Confucius believed he really was the chosen one or whether he was simply making a bold statement of intent. Perhaps it was a bit of both. No matter what the actual truth was, he certainly did his utmost to live up to his billing with his tireless devotion to promoting traditional Zhou culture and values.

After all, no matter how clever you are in crafting your personal brand, you’ll find it has no value at all if just contains empty words. You have to embody it in everything you say and do. 


This article features a translation of Chapter 6 of Book 9 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 9 here.

(1) This incident is said to have occurred in in 496 BCE when Confucius had to make a hasty departure from the state of Wei after he became the victim of a whispering campaign launched against him by ministers afraid that he would take their jobs. When he arrived at the rough border town of Kuang, Confucius was mistaken by the locals for Yang Huo (楊貨) a notorious outlaw from the state of Lu nicknamed Tiger Yang who had previously ransacked the town, and had to invoke his self-proclaimed stewardship of the legacy of his hero, the Duke of Zhou, to calm the fears of his followers. I’m not sure whether it was this argument that persuaded the good people of Kuang to let him go, but somehow Confucius managed to talk himself out of danger. 

(2) King Wen is honored as the founder of the Zhou dynasty even though it was his son King Wu who actually established it after defeating the last Shang dynasty king Zhouxin at the battle of Muye in ca. 1046 BCE. You can read more about King Wen of Zhou here and King Wu of Zhou here.

(3) The Duke of Zhou was the fourth son of King Wen and the younger brother of King Wu. After the death of King Wu in 1049 BCE, the duke took over as regent until his brother’s son was old enough to assume the throne. You can read more about him here.

(4) The bizarre assassination attempt on Confucius allegedly organized by Huan Tui is referred to in Book 7, Chapter 22. You can read more about it here.

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Yilan, Taiwan. You can read more about the rather convoluted history of this temple in this excellent article by Josh Ellis here.

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