All posts by Richard Brown

Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Ziyu

Ziyu (子羽) was the courtesy name of Gongsun Hui, a foreign minister of the small state of Zheng and one of the top officials who reported to its famous chief minister, Zichan.

Ziyu is mentioned once in the Analects together with his colleagues Bi Chen and Shi Shu in 14.8. There are also references to him in the Commentary of Zuo. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Ziyu

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: overstepping the bounds

power of positioning

Confucius said: “Don’t concern yourself with the affairs of an office that you don’t hold.” Zengzi said: “A leader would never consider overstepping the bounds of their position.”
子曰:「不在其位,不謀其政。」曾子曰:「君子思不出其位。」

Your time is precious. Make the most of it. Focus on what you can control and impact. Don’t waste your energy worrying about issues that you have no influence over. You’ll just end up wearing yourself out – not to mention annoying your colleagues by sticking your nose into their business. Let them get on with what they need to do and concentrate on the work you need to complete. Everyone will be a lot happier and more productive for it. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: overstepping the bounds

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. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: the perfect messenger!

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: why do you learn?

why do you learn?

Confucius said: “In ancient times people learned to improve themselves. Nowadays they learn to impress others.”
子曰:「古之學者為己,今之學者為人。」

Why do you learn? To improve yourself or to impress other people? Do you imbibe the latest leadership wisdom because you want to become a better manager or because you want to make sure that you’re fully armed with all the latest buzzwords when you make your presentation at the next senior management meeting? Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: why do you learn?

Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Bi Chen

Bi Chen (裨諶) was a minister of the small state of Zheng and a key member of the lean, mean bureaucratic machine that was run by its illustrious chief minister Zichan.

Bi Chen makes only one appearance in the Analects. In 14.8, Confucius describes his role as preparing the first draft of a government edict for review and editing by his colleagues Shi Shu and Ziyu before it was sent for final polishing by Zichan himself. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Bi Chen

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: go high or go low?

go high

Confucius said: “A leader goes high. A petty person goes low.”
子曰:「君子上達,小人下達。」

Be honest with yourself. Do you go high or do you go low? Do you work for the common good or for your own personal benefit? Do you really care about helping to make life better for others or are you driven by adding more zeros to your bank account? Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: go high or go low?

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: honesty and trust

honesty and trust

Zilu asked how to serve a ruler. Confucius said: “Don’t deceive them; be willing to oppose them.”
子路問「事君」。子曰:「勿欺也,而犯之。」

Honesty and trust are at the core of any meaningful relationship. The one between you and your boss is no exception. If you’re not open and candid with them, they’ll soon lose their confidence in you. The last thing they want to hear are nasty surprises because you’ve kept them in the dark about unexpected problems with a client that you’ve been unable to handle or a slowdown in sales. Better to proactively voice your concerns rather than hope the problem will magically go away. The earlier you nip it in the bud, the easier it will be to solve it. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: honesty and trust

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: an exercise in futility

exercise in futility

Chen Chengzi assassinated Duke Jian of Qi. Confucius took a bath and went to court, where he told Duke Ai of Lu: “Chen Heng murdered his ruler. Please punish him.” The Duke said: “Report this to the three lords.” Confucius said: “As a former official myself, I had no choice but to make this report. Yet my lord has only said, ‘Report this to the three lords.’” He went and made his report to the three lords. They refused to intervene. Confucius said: “As a former official myself, I had no choice but to make this report.”
陳成子弒簡公。孔子沐浴而朝,告於哀公曰:「陳恒弒其君,請討之。」公曰:「告夫三子。」孔子曰:「以吾從大夫之後,不敢不告也!」君曰:「告夫三子者!之三子告,不可。」孔子曰:「以吾從大夫子後,不敢不告也!」

Think very carefully before you decide to poke your nose in other people’s business. Of course, there’s always a chance that they may listen to you, but it’s much more likely that it will turn out to be an exercise in futility. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: an exercise in futility

Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Kong Wenzi

Kong Wenzi (孔文子) was the posthumous name given to Kong Yu (孔圉) a minister of the state of Wei who died about a year before Confucius in around 480 BCE.

Kong’s posthumous name literally means Kong-the-Refined or Kong-the-Cultured. Many people at the time considered this to be rather ironic given that he was said to have been an unsavory character notorious for his disloyalty and dissoluteness. No wonder Zigong is so befuddled in 14.19 by the news that Kong had been given such an honor! Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Kong Wenzi

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: rash promises

rash promises

Confucius said: “People who make rash promises will find them hard to keep.”
子曰:「其言之不怍,則為之也難!」

How do you capture attention in a culture where every new product is so environmentally friendly that it will save the planet and every new business model is so revolutionary that it will change the world as we know it? Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: rash promises