Leadership lessons from Confucius: close to the edge

close to the edge

When at Confucius’s side, Min Ziqian was straightforward but respectful; Zilu was bold and intense; Ran Qiu and Zigong were frank but amiable. Confucius was happy but said: “A man like Zilu won’t die a natural death.”

How well do you know your colleagues? Not just how good they are at their work, but their personal strengths, weaknesses, and character traits.

Do you ever find yourself worrying that one of them could burn out because they put much pressure on themselves or love living too close the edge? Is there anything you can do to help them beyond giving them the occasional friendly word of advice? Or do you refuse to interfere and let them go on living their life as they see fit?


This article features a translation of Chapter 13 of Book 11 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 11 here.

(1) Confucius had a very close but tempestuous relationship with the bold but impetuous Zilu. He often called him out for his recklessness, and was highly critical of his friend’s close links with his political enemy, Ji Kangzi, the powerful regent of his home state of Lu. Although Confucius was probably half-joking when he said that Zilu wouldn’t die a natural death, his warning turned out to be prophetic. His faithful friend and follower was killed in a coup d’état in the state of Wei in 480 BCE when attempting to rescue his sponsor Kong Kui (孔悝) after ignoring advice from others not to intervene. You can read more about Zilu here, and learn more about the tumultuous events that led to his death here

(2) You can click on the links to read more about the followers Min Ziqian, Ran Qiu, and Zigong.

I took this image of an ancient Zhou dynasty ritual vessel at the new Confucius Museum in the sage’s home town of Qufu. You can read more about the museum here.

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