Leadership lessons from Confucius: not everything’s about you

Not everything’s about you

顏淵死,門人欲厚葬之,子曰:「不可。」門人厚葬之。子曰:「回也,視予猶父也,予不得視猶子也。非我也,夫二三子也。」
When Yan Hui died, his fellow followers wanted to give him a grand burial. Confucius said: “This isn’t right.” When the followers gave him a grand burial, Confucius said: “Yan Hui treated me like a father, but I was not given the chance to treat him like a son. This is not my fault, but yours, my friends.” (1)

If your team ever decides to disregard your advice or instructions, accept their decision with grace. Not everything’s about you. If there’s any blame to be apportioned, it should probably be placed on you for putting them into a position where they are given no choice but to ignore you.

Notes

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

(1) Confucius hardly covers himself in glory with his behavior following the death of Yan Hui. While it’s understandable that he’s devastated by the loss of his number one follower, he forgets that the funeral is not just about him. Yan Hui, his family, and even his friends are also involved. His attempt to blame his followers for not giving him the opportunity to treat him like a son by holding a grand burial for him comes off as extremely selfish – even if strictly speaking they were violating ritual propriety with their big send-off.

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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