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.’”

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.


This article features a translation of Chapter 18 of Book 14 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 14 here.

(1) Even though Confucius isn’t prepared to believe everything that Gongming Jia says about Gongshu Wenzi in 14.13, he is happy enough to agree that he deserved the honor of being given the posthumous title of Wenzi (文子), meaning ‘the Refined’, ‘the Civilized’ or ‘the Cultured’. In ancient China, most high-ranking officials would consider it a humiliation to be equal in rank with a former subordinate. Gongshu’s decision to recommend his retainer Zhuan for promotion to a senior position in the court of Duke Ling of Wei was seen as a rare and selfless act.

I took this image at the Temple of the Duke of Zhou in Qufu. The duke was Confucius’s great hero and role model as a result of his tireless efforts to the establish the foundation of the fledgling kingdom of Zhou while acting a regent to the young King Cheng. You can read more about the temple here.

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