Leadership lessons from Confucius: on role models

role models

子張問善人之道。子曰:「不踐跡,亦不入於室。」
Zizhang asked how to become a perfect person. Confucius said: “If you don’t follow the path others have trodden, you can’t enter the inner chamber.”

What kind of role model do you provide for your colleagues and members of your family? Are you even conscious that others will take their cues from how you act and behave accordingly? If you arrive on time for work every day, chances are that they will too. But if you allow yourself a more flexible schedule, they’re just as likely to follow your example. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: on role models

Leadership lessons from Confucius: the pursuit of perfection

pursuit of perfection

子曰:「回也其庶乎!屢空,賜不受命,而貨殖焉;億則屢中。」
Confucius said: “Yan Hui has just about achieved perfection, but he lives in constant poverty. Zigong is never satisfied with his lot and engages in trading and speculation. He frequently succeed in his business ventures.”

Poverty isn’t necessarily a price you have to pay in order to be virtuous. Indeed, it can be very difficult to stick to the right path if you can’t pay the bills.

You don’t necessarily have to compromise your morals in order to become wealthy either. Indeed, you have a greater chance of success if you stick to your values. Be sure to remember, though, to you use your riches productively for the overall benefit of society. That new multi-million dollar yacht you’ve just bought to impress everyone will soon lose its luster when someone else has one that is even bigger and shinier. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: the pursuit of perfection

Leadership lessons from Confucius: the dreaded annual review process

annual review process

柴也愚,參也魯,師也辟,由也喭。
Zigao is dumb; Zengzi is dull; Zizhang is frivolous; Zilu is reckless. (1)

How seriously do you take the annual review process for your staff? Do you approach it as a box-ticking exercise to keep HR and senior management off your back? Or do you use it as an opportunity to have a frank and serious conversation with each member of your team in order to let them know what you think about their performance and come up with ways of addressing any shortcomings in them that you’ve identified? Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: the dreaded annual review process

Notes from the field: hotel service bots & porcine facial recognition systems

porcine facial recognition

I can’t say that I was too surprised to see a couple of robots lurking around the lobby when I first checked into my Beijing hotel. The rate of new technology adoption is much faster in China than other countries.

Even though one of the machines was being touted as a service bot for delivering items to guest’s rooms, I would suspect that the main value of the two devices currently lies as a marketing tool. They certainly attracted enough attention and social media engagement from both domestic and overseas visitors to justify their cost. But I don’t think it will be too long before such machines will be able to carry out more business-critical tasks like checking in guests using facial recognition, booking cars and taxis for them, and securing reservations for VIPs in exclusive restaurants. Of course, some human staff will still be required to add a personal touch to the guest experience – but not quite as many as now I would guess. Continue reading Notes from the field: hotel service bots & porcine facial recognition systems

Notes from the field: the Beijing Summer Palace

Beijing Summer Palace

The Summer Palace (颐和园) was the perfect place to finish my final trip to China this year. No matter how many times I visit this former Qing imperial resort, I never lose my sense of wonder at the sublime beauty of its palaces, pavilions, and lakes.

The Qing emperors and their retinues certainly knew how to enjoy themselves. However, their extravagance – best exemplified by the construction of the notorious marble boat for the Empress Dowager Cixi using funds intended for modernizing the navy – played a major role in the demise of the dynasty around the turn of the twentieth century. Continue reading Notes from the field: the Beijing Summer Palace

Notes from the field: a visit to the the Fragrant Hills

I still vividly remember one of the first Chinese lessons I ever took extolling the beauty of the red autumn leaves of the Fragrant Hills (香山) just to the northwest of Beijing. It’s strange what sticks in the mind.

Unfortunately, I arrived far too late to see the leaves when I made my first ever visit this morning to this former imperial resort that dates back as far back as the Jin dynasty (1115-1234). But I was more than compensated for this by a crisp morning stroll around the virtually deserted park. It was only when I left at around 9:30am that it started filling up with visitors. Continue reading Notes from the field: a visit to the the Fragrant Hills

Leadership lessons from Confucius: an extraordinary outburst

extraordinary outburst

季氏富於周公,而求也為之聚斂而附益之。子曰:「非吾徒也,小子鳴鼓而攻之可也!」
The head of the Ji Family was wealthier than the Duke of Zhou ever was, but Ran Qiu still assisted him with the collection of taxes to further increase his wealth. Confucius said: “He’s no longer my follower. You may beat the drum and attack him, my young friends.”

There’s no point in exploding with anger when someone has done something that upsets you – particularly if they’re not actually there to hear you. It might make you feel good for a couple seconds, but pretty soon you’ll be left feeling sheepish along with everyone else who was there to witness your outburst. How do you think you would make them feel if you went as far as to call for violence against someone you’re a close friend of?
Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: an extraordinary outburst

Leadership lessons from Confucius: both miss the mark

miss the mark

子貢問:「師與商也孰賢?」子曰:「師也過,商也不及。」曰:「然則師愈與?」子曰:「過猶不及。」
Zigong asked: “Who is better: Zizhang or Zixia?” Confucius said: “Zizhang overshoots the mark and Zixia falls short of the mark.” Zigong said: “Then Zizhang must be better?” Confucius said: “Both miss the mark.”

When does your greatest strength become your greatest weakness? This is a question you should think deeply about when analyzing your actions. A lot may depend on the circumstances you’re in.
Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: both miss the mark

Leadership lessons from Confucius: putting someone under a cloud

under a cloud

子曰:「由之瑟,奚為於丘之門?」門人不敬子路。子曰:「由也升堂矣!未入於室也!」
Confucius said: “What is Zilu doing playing his zither inside my gate?” His other followers ceased to treat Zilu with respect. Confucius said: “Zilu may not have entered the inner chamber yet, but he has at least ascended to the hall.” (1) (2)

If you have reason to criticize a member of your team, make sure you do so in private. This is not only respectful to the person concerned, but it also prevents gossip and rumors spreading through the office like wildfire. Loose lips can not only sink ships but also people’s reputations and even careers. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: putting someone under a cloud

Leadership lessons from Confucius: a bright shiny object

bright shiny object

魯人為長府。閔子騫曰:「仍舊貫,如之何?何必改作!」子曰:「夫人不言,言必有中。」
The leadership of Lu was planning to demolish the Long Treasury and rebuild it. Min Ziqian said: “Why not just repair the old structure? Why build a new one?” Confucius said: “This man rarely speaks, but when he does he hits the mark.” (1)

It’s always much more exciting to work on a new project than on maintaining or upgrading an existing one – not to mention more beneficial to your career because of the increased exposure it will give you. After all, who has time to pay attention to the poor suckers beavering away in the background when there’s a brand-new bright shiny object to gawp at? Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: a bright shiny object