Leadership Lessons from Confucius: easy to manage

easy to manage

Confucius said: “When their rulers love ritual, the common people are easy to manage.”
子曰:「上好禮,則民易使也。」

The rot starts at the top. If you don’t respect the rules that you set for your team, you have no right to expect your staff to follow them either. No amount of self-righteous blather and bluster will be sufficient to persuade them that they should place their confidence and trust in you. Just as you pretend to lead, they’ll pretend to work.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 41 of Book 14 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 14 here.

(1) This passage sums up the lesson from 14.40. By showing his deep respect for the fundamentals at the beginning of his reign through his strict observation of the three-year mourning period following the death of his father, Wu Ding gained the support of his officials and people and thus become a highly effective ruler.

(2) Other examples of the same principle can be found in 1.2, 13.1, and 13.4:

Youzi said: “A person who practices filial and fraternal devotion is unlikely to question the authority of their superiors. Such a person will never provoke disorder. A leader focuses on the root; once this takes hold the way appears. Filial and fraternal devotion is the root of goodness.”

Zilu asked about governance. Confucius said: “Lead the people by example. Work hard for them.” Zilu asked him for further instruction. Confucius said: “Tirelessly.”

After Fan Chi had left, Confucius said: “What a petty person! When a ruler loves ritual, the people don’t dare to be disrespectful. When a ruler loves rightness, the people don’t dare to be disobedient. When a ruler loves trustworthiness, the people don’t dare to be deceitful. If such a ruler existed, people would flock to them from everywhere with their children strapped to their backs.

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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