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.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 19 of Book 14 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 14 here.

(1) Confucius had intimate knowledge of the workings of the decadent but surprisingly effective court of Duke Ling of Wei during an extended stay there after leaving his home state of Lu for exile in 496 BCE, including an ill-judged audience with the duke’s scheming consort Nanzi in 6.28. While he was impressed with the abilities of its top ministers, he wasn’t quite so taken by their morals. That the duke was able to meld them into a high-performance team that kept the state functioning while he spent most of his time on military adventures and the pursuit of pleasure was quite an achievement in its own right. No wonder Ji Kangzi was so curious about how he managed to do it!

(2) Confucius is probably having a dig at Ji Kangzi’s failure to appoint talented and virtuous officials to run the state of Lu with his acerbic final comment.

(3) You can read more about the notorious Duke Ling of Wei here.

(4) Kong Wenzi was the posthumous name given to Kong Yu, referred to as Zhong Yuzhen (仲叔圉) in this passage. You can read more about him here.

(5) Zhu Tuo was known for his eloquence. His name is often translated as Priest Tuo in English. You can read more about him here.

(6) Wangsun Jia was the chief minister of Duke Ling of Wei and renowned for being a great and loyal general. You can read more about him here.

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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