All posts by Richard Brown

Leadership lessons from Confucius: do the right thing

do the right thing

Ji Kangzi asked Confucius about governance. Confucius replied: “To govern effectively is to do the right thing. If you do the right thing who would dare not to do it?”
季康子問政於孔子,孔子對曰:「政者正也,子帥以正,孰敢不正?」

The rot starts at the top. If you fail to do the right thing, how can you expect others to? If you proclaim a commitment to diversity and then give your best buddy a major promotion because he is “uniquely qualified” for the position, how can you expect everyone else to follow the new policy? Even if people don’t complain openly about your hypocrisy, they’ll find equally creative ways to pretend that they’re doing the right thing as you do. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: do the right thing

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: bringing out the good in people

bringing out the good in people

子曰:「君子成人之美,不成人之惡。小人反是。」
Confucius said: “A leader brings out the good in people – not the bad. A petty person does exactly the opposite.”

You have no greater responsibility as a leader than bringing out the good in people around you. That means spending the time to work with them to identify their strengths and weaknesses, and taking the necessary steps to develop and address them through mentoring, training, and assigning the right projects that will enable them to learn from experience. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: bringing out the good in people

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: turning an idea into reality

turning an idea into reality

子曰:「博學於文,約之以禮,亦可以弗畔矣夫。」
Confucius said: “If you expand your learning through culture and keep your behavior in check through ritual you’re unlikely to go wrong.”

It can be easy to get so consumed by an idea that you lose sight of how to turn it into reality. While the numbers may look amazing in the spreadsheets and presentation files you hastily cobble together and the initial feedback from the small circle of friends you trust enough to tell them about it is off the charts, your unicorn is just a twinkle in your eye until you figure out the actionable steps that will be required to let it loose into the world. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: turning an idea into reality

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: to the best of your ability

to the best of your ability

子張問「政」。子曰:「居之無倦,行之以忠。」
Zizhang asked about governance. Confucius said: “Execute the responsibilities of your office tirelessly. Carry out your duties faithfully.”

Even if you’re unhappy about the assignment you’ve been given, carry it out to the best of your ability. The more successful you are in executing it, the greater the levels of trust and respect you’ll gain from your colleagues and bosses. Once you have demonstrated your ability to deliver on your commitments, people will come to you with ever more interesting projects and opportunities that will expand the scope of your responsibilities and influence. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: to the best of your ability

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: after the horse has bolted

after the horse has bolted

子曰:「聽訟,吾猶人也,必也使無訟乎!」
Confucius said: “I can adjudicate lawsuits as well as anybody. But I would prefer to make litigation unnecessary.”

Why bother shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted? Focus instead on building a culture that prevents the steed from escaping in the first place. Rules are reactive by their very nature. They only address situations that have already taken place without identifying or eliminating the root cause. There’ll never be enough of them to cover every possible scenario that might occur. It’s only by putting the right principles, processes, and practices in place that you and your organization will become more proactive in dealing with potential problems and threats. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: after the horse has bolted

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: analysis paralysis

analysis paralysis

Confucius said: “Only Zilu could pass judgment on a lawsuit after hearing half the evidence.” Zilu never slept on a promise.
子曰:「片言可以折獄者,其由也與!」子路無宿諾。

It can be all too easy to postpone a decision in order to collect more data for analysis. The problem is that no matter how many terabytes you manage to gather, it will never be enough to guarantee that you’re making the right decision. Better to act fast and iterate than get caught up in an infinite loop of analysis paralysis. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: analysis paralysis

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: know your role

know your role

齊景公問政於孔子。孔子對曰:「君君,臣臣,父父,子子。」公曰:「善哉!信如君不君,臣不臣,父不父,子不子,雖有粟,吾得而食諸?」
Duke Jing of Qi asked Confucius about governance. Confucius replied: “Let lords be lords; ministers be ministers; fathers be fathers; and sons be sons.” The duke said: “Excellent! If lords are not lords, ministers are not ministers, fathers are not fathers, and sons are not sons, would I be able to eat even if I had food?”

It’s not enough simply to know your role. You also have to live up to the professional and ethical responsibilities that it encompasses. As a CEO, for example, your role involves much more than hitting the right financial numbers; building up a strong corporate culture that promotes honesty and openness is equally, if not more, important. That means, of course, becoming a powerful role model who sets the right example for everyone to follow through your words and actions. While you may not realize it at first, failure to do that will send your organization sliding down a slippery slope that will be difficult to escape from. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: know your role

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: drama and confusion

drama and confusion

子張問「崇德,辨惑。」子曰:「主忠信,徒義崇德也。愛之欲其生,惡之欲其死;既欲其生,又欲其死,是惑也!」誠不以富,亦祗以異。
Zizhang asked about the phrase “accumulate virtue, resolve confusion”. Confucius said: “Place loyalty and trust above everything and follow the path of rightness to accumulate virtue. When you love someone, you want them to live; when you hate someone, you want them to die. But if you want someone to live and to die at the same time, that’s confusion.”
It may not be just because she is wealthy,
It may also be out of a need for variety.

Pivoting is a sign of weakness not strength. Once you’ve set your course, focus on building up the capabilities and cohesiveness of your team in order to accomplish your mission. Of course, you’re always going to experience doubts about the path you’re taking.  But the more you’re tempted to divert from it, the greater the unnecessary drama and confusion you’ll create. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: drama and confusion

Followers of Confucius: Youzi

Youzi (有子), or Zi Ruo (子若) or You Ruo (有若) to use his courtesy and given names, was regarded for a short period after the death of Confucius as his spiritual heir – mainly, it seems, because he bore a remarkable physical resemblance to the sage.

However, while Youzi’s looks may have been similar to those of Confucius, his talents came nowhere near to matching those of the sage, and he soon lost the confidence of the other followers. Continue reading Followers of Confucius: Youzi

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: when times are tough

when times are tough

哀公問於有若曰:「年饑,用不足,如之何?」有若對曰:「盍徹乎!」曰:「二,吾猶不足,如之何其徹也?」對曰:「百姓足,君孰與不足?百姓不足,君孰與足?」
Duke Ai asked Youzi: “In years of famine when I don’t make enough to cover my expenses, what should I do?” Youzi replied: “Why not set the tax at ten percent?” Duke Ai said: “Even twenty percent wouldn’t be sufficient to meet my needs; how could I manage with ten percent?” Youzi replied: “If the people have enough to support themselves, how could their lord not have enough to meet his needs? If the people do not have enough to support themselves, how could their lord have enough to meet his needs?”

When times are tough, show you have confidence in your people by increasing their freedom to be more creative. Even if it means that you have to take a short-term hit, the long-term rewards for you and everyone you work with will be rich. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: when times are tough