Leadership Lessons from Confucius: an exercise in futility

exercise in futility

Chen Chengzi assassinated Duke Jian of Qi. Confucius took a bath and went to court, where he told Duke Ai of Lu: “Chen Heng murdered his ruler. Please punish him.” The Duke said: “Report this to the three lords.” Confucius said: “As a former official myself, I had no choice but to make this report. Yet my lord has only said, ‘Report this to the three lords.’” He went and made his report to the three lords. They refused to intervene. Confucius said: “As a former official myself, I had no choice but to make this report.”
陳成子弒簡公。孔子沐浴而朝,告於哀公曰:「陳恒弒其君,請討之。」公曰:「告夫三子。」孔子曰:「以吾從大夫之後,不敢不告也!」君曰:「告夫三子者!之三子告,不可。」孔子曰:「以吾從大夫子後,不敢不告也!」

Think very carefully before you decide to poke your nose in other people’s business. Of course, there’s always a chance that they may listen to you, but it’s much more likely that it will turn out to be an exercise in futility. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: an exercise in futility

Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Kong Wenzi

Kong Wenzi (孔文子) was the posthumous name given to Kong Yu (孔圉) a minister of the state of Wei who died about a year before Confucius in around 480 BCE.

Kong’s posthumous name literally means Kong-the-Refined or Kong-the-Cultured. Many people at the time considered this to be rather ironic given that he was said to have been an unsavory character notorious for his disloyalty and dissoluteness. No wonder Zigong is so befuddled in 14.19 by the news that Kong had been given such an honor! Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Kong Wenzi

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: rash promises

rash promises

Confucius said: “People who make rash promises will find them hard to keep.”
子曰:「其言之不怍,則為之也難!」

How do you capture attention in a culture where every new product is so environmentally friendly that it will save the planet and every new business model is so revolutionary that it will change the world as we know it? Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: rash promises

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: unleash everyone’s full potential

Confucius said that Duke Ling of Wei didn’t follow the way. Ji Kangzi said: “If this is the case, how come he hasn’t lost his state?” Confucius said: “He has Kong Wenzi looking after guests and foreign delegations, Zhu Tuo taking care of the ancestral temple, and Wangsun Jia in charge of defense. With such officials as these, how could he possibly lose his state?”
子言衛靈公之無道也,康子曰:「夫如是,奚而不喪?」孔子曰:「仲叔圉治賓客,祝鮀治宗廟,王孫賈治軍旅,夫如是,奚其喪?」

You’re only as good as the people you have around you. Be careful to ensure that you put the right person in each job and that their personalities and abilities mesh with each other. When you have everyone in place and the team is functioning smoothly, resist the temptation to take things easy. That’s the time to start planning how to take things to the next level and unleash everyone’s full potential. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: unleash everyone’s full potential

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: ready for promotion

ready for promotion

The steward of Gongshu Wenzi, Zhuan, was promoted together with him to the duke’s court. Confucius heard this and said: “Gongshu truly deserves to be called ‘the Refined.’”
公叔文子之臣大夫僎,與文子同升諸公。子聞之曰:「可以為文矣!」

If you’ve done your job right, there will inevitably come a time when a member of your team is ready for promotion to a position that’s the same level as yours or perhaps even a higher one. Don’t stand in their way when this happens. Take it as a positive affirmation of your leadership abilities and wish them the greatest of success in their new assignment. Your key responsibility is to develop talent for the good of the whole organization. You should be proud to have played a key role in enabling them to reach their full potential. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: ready for promotion

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: sharp retorts and derisive comments

derisive comments

Zigong said: “Guan Zhong wasn’t a good person, was he? After Duke Huan had Prince Jiu put to death, he not only chose to live but also served as the duke’s chief minister.” Confucius said: “By serving as Duke Huan’s chief minister, Guan Zhong imposed his authority over all the states and brought order to the world; the people still reap the benefits of his actions until this day. Without Guan Zhong, we would still be wearing our hair loose and folding our robes on the wrong side. Or would you prefer it if he had drowned himself in a ditch like some wretched husband or wife in their petty fidelity and died with nobody knowing about it?”
子貢曰:「管仲非仁者與?桓公殺公子糾,不能死,又相之。」子曰:「管仲相桓公,霸諸侯,一匡天下,民到于今受其賜。微管仲,吾其被髮左衽矣!豈若匹夫匹婦之為諒也,自經於溝瀆,而莫之知也!」

No matter how many times you’ve been asked the same question, there’s no need to explode when someone raises it yet again. Sharp retorts and derisive comments may make you feel good at the time, but they add nothing to the conversation. At best they will only serve to discourage open discussion and debate among your staff and at worst they could end up destroying your career. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: sharp retorts and derisive comments

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: break with convention?

break with convention

Zilu said: “When Duke Huan had Prince Jiu put to death, Shao Hu took his own life but Guan Zhong chose to keep his. Should we say that Guan Zhong was a man without goodness?” Confucius said: “Duke Huan was able to bring the rulers of all the states together nine times without having to resort to military force because of the power of Guan Zhong. Such was his goodness! Such was his goodness!”
子路曰:「桓公殺公子糾,召忽死之,管仲不死。」曰:「未仁乎!」子曰:「桓公九合諸侯,不以兵車,管仲之力也。如其仁!如其仁!」

Is it only when your organization’s very survival is at stake that you’re willing to break with convention? When everything’s humming along smoothly do you have the courage to make daring decisions on people or products that fly in the face of accepted wisdom? Or are you content to keep on steering the ship on its current course? Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: break with convention?

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: the power of positioning

power of positioning

Confucius said: “Duke Wen of Jin was crafty and improper; Duke Huan of Qi was proper and not crafty.”
子曰:「晉文公譎而不正,齊桓公正而不譎。」

Never underestimate the power of positioning to shape perceptions of you. It can make all the difference between being seen as a strong leader rather than a tyrannical bully or as a paragon of virtue rather than a grifting virtue signaler. Once you have crafted your story, be sure to remain authentic to it. A single rash deed or word can shatter your image in an instant. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: the power of positioning

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: when your back’s against the wall

when your back's against the wall

Confucius said: “Zang Wuzhong demanded that the city of Fang be acknowledged by the Duke of Lu as his hereditary fief. Although it’s said he didn’t coerce his ruler, I don’t believe it.”
子曰:「臧武仲以防,求為後於魯,雖曰不要君,吾不信也。」

When your back’s against the wall, you sometimes have no choice but to play hard ball. If you let other people walk over you, you’ll lose the respect of your colleagues and members of your team. No matter how much criticism you attract, hang tough and fight your corner. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: when your back’s against the wall

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: getting into the zone

in the zone

Confucius asked Gongming Jia about Gongshu Wenzi: “Is it true that your master never spoke, laughed, nor took anything?” Gongming Jia replied: “Whoever told you this exaggerated. My master spoke, but only at the right time, and so no one ever thought he spoke too much; he laughed, but only when he was happy, and so no one ever thought that he laughed too much; he took things, but only when it was right, and so no one ever thought that he took too much.” Confucius said: “How commendable! Assuming of course it is true.”
子問「公叔文子」於公明賈,曰:「信乎?夫子不言不笑不取乎?」公明賈對曰:「以告者過也!夫子時然後言,人不厭其言;樂然後笑,人不厭其笑;義然後取,人不厭其取。」子曰:「其然!豈其然乎?」

How to get yourself into the zone when everything you say, do, and touch turns to gold? Even the greatest athletes and artists in the world only manage to achieve a state of peak performance on the rarest of occasions. For most of the time, they are busy fine-tuning their skills, bodies, and minds in preparation for that magical moment when they hit the perfect home run or create their masterpiece. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: getting into the zone