Leadership Lessons from Confucius: the perfect messenger!

the perfect messenger

Qu Boyu sent a messenger to Confucius. Confucius sat together with him and asked: “How is your master?” The messenger replied: “My master wishes to reduce his faults, but he hasn’t succeeded yet.” The messenger left. Confucius said: “The perfect messenger! The perfect messenger!”
蘧伯玉使人於孔子,孔子與之坐而問焉。曰:「夫子何為?」對曰:「夫子欲寡其過而未能也。」使者出。子曰:「使乎!使乎!」

Everyone in your organization is an ambassador. Have you trained them to make sure they represent it in the appropriate manner? That doesn’t just mean at formal events and meetings, but on the phone and social media. As personal and professional lives become ever more closely integrated, this is becoming an increasingly tough challenge. You need make your expectations very clear, so that people no excuses for failing to meet them. If someone bridles against the limitations you set, remain firm. There are plenty of other opportunities that they can pursue if they feel the standards are too strict.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 25 of Book 14 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 14 here.

(1) Qu Boyu was a high-ranking official and scholar from the state of Wei, who was famous for his never-ending quest for self-improvement. Some commentators speculate that Confucius may have stayed with Boyu, who was nearly forty years older than him, during the time he spent in Wei – but there is no historical evidence to support this claim. With his final approving comments about the messenger, Confucius is probably indirectly praising Boyu for his unstinting efforts to improve himself and the positive effects they have on those around him, though some commentators detect a hint of sarcasm in them. Without knowing the original context in which the exchange took place, it’s difficult to know which interpretation is correct. You can read more about Qu Boyu 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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