Leadership Lessons from Confucius: unfriendly fire

unfriendly fire

Confucius said: “If a good leader instructs the people for seven years they’re ready for just about anything, even taking up arms.”
子曰:「善人教民七年,亦可以即戎矣。」

The larger and stronger your organizations grows, the greater the likelihood that it will draw unfriendly fire – whether it’s from a competitor aiming to defend its market share, customers hoping to cut your pricing, politicians looking to score a few cheap brownie points, or regulators hoping to make their mark. Or perhaps from all quarters at the same time!

Making detailed contingency plans is vital in preparing for such an eventuality, but it’s just the first step. Since no battle plan ever survives its first contact with the enemy, you also need to make sure that your organization has a strong and cohesive culture with the resilience and flexibility required not just to deal with unfriendly fire but also come out stronger on the other side.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 29 of Book 13 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 13 here.

(1) Even though his teachings were focused on promoting peace and stability, Confucius was pragmatic enough to realize that there are times when war is unavoidable and that a ruler needs to prepare their people for such an event. His implication in the final two chapters of Book 13 of the Analects is that this requires not only giving them practical military training but also inculcating in them the right values so that they understand what they are defending if they are ever called into battle. After all, even the best-equipped army in the world has very little chance of winning a war if its soldiers have no idea what they are fighting for.

This image was taken in the Taiwan National Center of Traditional Arts in Yilan County. You can read more about it here.

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