Leadership lessons from Confucius: the conventions and the spirit

practice and spirit

祭於公,不宿肉。祭肉,不出三日;出三日,不食之矣。
After taking part in a public sacrificial ceremony, he didn’t keep the meat bestowed on him overnight. After carrying out a family sacrificial ceremony, he didn’t keep the meat for more than three days. After the third day, he didn’t eat it.

Observe the conventions and the spirit of the ceremony. Even if the origins of its protocols and procedures have been lost in the mists of time, respect and honor them. Rather than question the meaning and integrity of the ancient traditions it embodies, celebrate the shared sense of meaning and identity that they preserve and transmit from generation to generation. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: the conventions and the spirit

Leadership lessons from Confucius: maintaining a healthy diet

healthy diet

食不厭精,膾不厭細。食饐而餲,魚餒而肉敗不食,色惡不食,臭惡不食,失飪不食,不時不食,割不正不食,不得其醬不食。肉雖多,不使勝食氣。惟酒無量,不及亂。沽酒,市脯,不食。不撤薑食。
He didn’t eat too much finely-milled rice and finely-cut meat. If the food was rotten or rancid, if the fish wasn’t fresh, and if the meat was spoiled, he didn’t eat it. If the food was off-color, he didn’t eat it. If it smelled bad, he didn’t eat it. If it was undercooked, he didn’t eat it. If it wasn’t served at the proper time, he didn’t eat it. If it wasn’t butchered properly, he didn’t eat it. If it wasn’t served in its proper sauce, he didn’t eat it. Even if there was plenty of meat, he didn’t eat more meat than rice. As for liquor, however, there was no limit as long as he remained sober. He didn’t consume liquor or meat bought from the market. He was never without ginger when he ate, but used it only in moderation. (1)

As with most things in life, moderation is the key to a healthy diet. Even if you can afford the finest gourmet foods and drinks that the world has to offer, that doesn’t mean that you should eat them all the time. Yes, you can have too much of a good thing. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: maintaining a healthy diet

Leadership lessons from Confucius: periods of purification

periods of purification

齊,必有明衣布。齊,必變食。居,必遷坐。
During periods of purification, he wore a plain robe made of coarse linen. During periods of purification, he simplified his diet and did not sleep in his usual place when at home.

In today’s age of relentless connectivity, it’s more vital than ever before to take time to unplug from all the noise and shed all the gunk that has accumulated in your body and mind. Even a short hike on the weekend can be enough to put you back in touch with the yourself and clear your head. More extended retreats are even more effective in helping you to truly wind down. Rather than asking if you can find time to fit one in your schedule, you should ask yourself how to make it possible. The longer you postpone taking one, the harder it will be to truly recharge yourself. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: periods of purification

Leadership lessons from Confucius: dressing for success

dressing for success

君子不以以紺緅飾,紅紫不以為褻服;當暑,袗絺綌,必表而出之。緇衣羔裘,素衣麑裘,黃衣狐裘。褻裘長,短右袂。必有寢衣,長一身有半。狐貉之厚以居。去喪無所不佩。非帷裳,必殺之。羔裘玄冠,不以弔。吉月,必朝服而朝。
A leader doesn’t wear purple or maroon for the embroidered borders on his gown; he doesn’t use red or purple either for casual wear. During the summer, he wears a fine or coarse linen singlet, but never goes out without wearing an undergarment beneath it. He wears a black robe over a lambskin coat; a white robe over a fawn fur coat; and a yellow robe over a fox fur coat. His casual fur robes are long and have a shorter right sleeve. His nightgown is very long. He uses thick furs such as fox and badger as cushions. Except when he is in mourning, he can wear any type of adornment ornament on his girdle. Apart from his ceremonial robes, the layers of his other robes are cut to different lengths. At funerals, he doesn’t wear lambskin coats or black caps. On New Year’s Day, he attends court dressed in full court attire. (1) 

Even if the fashions have changed, dressing for success has never gone out of style. No matter whether it’s a Patagonia vest when you’re in Silicon Valley or a Savile Row suit when you’re in the City, you have to show that you’re one of the in-crowd and mean business. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: dressing for success

Leadership lessons from Confucius: first impressions count

first impressions count

執圭,鞠躬如也;如不勝。上如揖,下如授,勃如戰色,足縮縮如有循。享禮有容色,私覿愉愉如也。
When carrying a jade tablet, he bowed as if it was too heavy to lift. When he held it high, he looked as if he was going to give a greeting; when he held it low he looked as if he was going to make an offering. He adopted a solemn expression as if he was going off into battle, and he walked in short measured steps as if he was following a straight line. When participating in a ritual ceremony, he looked dignified. When in a private meeting, he looked happy and relaxed.

First impressions count. Dress appropriately for the occasion you are attending and know the expected protocol down pat before you arrive at it.  Approach your hosts with a calm and friendly but business-like air. By projecting a polished and confident demeanor, you will win them over even before you start to talk to them. They will see that you are every bit as committed to the success of the occasion as they are, and welcome you accordingly.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 5 of Book 10 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 10 here.

(1) Carrying a jade tablet refers to being on some kind of official business, such as representing a ruler as his envoy on a diplomatic mission to another state. The tablet was regarded as a symbol of the ruler’s prestige and authority.

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

Leadership lessons from Confucius: establishing the right mindset

mindset

入公門,鞠躬如也,如不容。立不中門,行不履閾。過位,色勃如也,足躩如也,其言似不足者。攝齊升堂,鞠躬如也,屏氣似不息者。出,降一等,逞顏色,怡怡如也;沒階趨進,翼如也;復其位,踧踖如也。
When entering the gate of the duke’s palace, he bowed his head respectfully as if it were not high enough. He never paused in the middle of the gateway, nor did he step on the threshold. When he passed in front of the duke’s throne, he adopted a serious expression on his face, quickened his step, and showed great reluctance to speak. When he lifted up the hem of his gown in preparation for walking up the steps of the audience hall, he inhaled deeply as if he didn’t dare to breathe. On leaving, after descending the first step, an expression of ease enveloped his face. When he reached the bottom step, he walked swiftly, as if on wings. On returning to his original position, he assumed a respectful and cautious demeanor once again.

How do you feel when you sit down at your desk after arriving for work? Is your mood the same every day or does it vary depending on the vagaries of the weather, traffic, or your personal life? Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: establishing the right mindset

Notes from the field: promoting AI learning in Taiwan

AI learning

It’s great to see the government in Taiwan step up its efforts to promote the teaching of AI in its elementary and high schools through its latest educational policy initiatives. At the 2019 Start! event held last Saturday at the Jiangcui Junior High School in New Taipei City, I had the privilege of witnessing some of the early results of these efforts when sixty-seven teams from schools throughout the island came together to put their driverless vehicles through their paces and compete with each other in various autonomous driving tasks.

Talking with the Commissioner of the Education Department of New Taipei City and the school principal, I was deeply impressed by their enthusiasm for giving students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in AI development from an early age. The sooner students become familiar with technologies like computer vision and deep learning, the more comfortable they will be in using them in the years ahead and the more likely they will be to come up with new AI applications of their own. Continue reading Notes from the field: promoting AI learning in Taiwan

Leadership lessons from Confucius: being the best you can be

being the best you can be

君召使擯,色勃如也,足躩如也。揖所與立,左右手,衣前後,襜如也。趨進,翼如也。賓退,必復命,曰:「賓不顧矣。」
When the ruler instructed him to welcome guests to court, he assumed a serious expression on his face and walked at a rapid pace. He clasped his hands in front of his chest and bowed towards those standing beside him, turning to the left and the right, and made sure that his gown flowed backwards and forwards in perfect rhythm with the movements of his body. He approached the guests in quick, small steps, his sleeves fluttering like the wings of a bird. When seeing off the guests, he always returned to announce: “The guests have gone.”

No matter how menial the task you are given is, put your heart and soul into it. By being the best you can be, you transform the mundane into the magical and inject new energy and meaning into tired old processes and routines. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: being the best you can be

Leadership lessons from Confucius: navigating hierarchies

hierarchies

朝與下大夫言,侃侃如也;與上大夫言,誾誾如也。君在,踧踖如也,與與如也。
When he was at court chatting with officials in the lower ranks, he was genial; when he was chatting with officials in the upper ranks, he was direct but respectful. When the ruler was present, he was reverent but composed.

For all the talk about creating “flat” organizations, every institution still has its own formal and informal hierarchies no matter how enlightened or progressive it may claim to be. Rather than attempt to fight it, learn how to navigate the hierarchical environment more effectively. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: navigating hierarchies

Analects of Confucius Book 10: new English translation

Read this new English translation of the Analects of Confucius Book 10 to learn more about how Confucius followed the conventions of ritual (禮/lǐ) to behave appropriately in different social situations.

Chapter 1
孔子於鄉黨,恂恂如也,似不能言者。其在宗廟朝廷,便便言,唯謹爾。
When Confucius was in his home village, he was unassuming and warm as if at a loss for words. When he was in the ancestral temple or at court he spoke with eloquence but due caution.
Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 10: new English translation