All posts by Richard Brown

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: continuous learning

continuous learning

Confucius traveled to Wei, with Ran Qiu driving his carriage. Confucius said: “There are so many people!” Ran Qiu said: “When there are so many people, what should be done next?” “Enrich them.” “When they are rich, what should be done next?” “Educate them.”
子適衛,冉有僕。子曰:「庶矣哉!」冉有曰:「既庶矣,又何加焉?」曰:「富之。」曰:「既富矣,又何加焉?」曰:「教之。」

Recruiting the right talent is just the first step in building a vibrant organization. Once you have everyone onboard, the next step is to make sure that they have the opportunity to constantly upgrade their capabilities through continuous learning. Although rich online resources in diverse multimedia formats have made access to knowledge more convenient than ever before, building a culture that actively encourages and rewards continuous learning is essential if everyone in the organization is to keep on growing. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: continuous learning

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: enjoy your wealth

enjoy your wealth

Confucius commented that Prince Jing of Wei knew how to manage the finances of his household well: “When he began to accumulate some wealth, he said ‘this is truly an ideal fit.’ As his wealth increased, he said ‘this is truly complete.’ When his wealth became considerable, he said ‘this is truly beautiful.’”
子謂衛公子荊善居室:「始有,曰『苟合矣』;少有,曰『苟完矣』;富有,曰『苟美矣。』」

Enjoy your wealth. You’ve deserved it. Just be sure to manage it responsibly. Don’t go overboard with the accumulation of possessions that you’ll never have any use of or get caught up in competitive displays of ostentation with others to prove that you’ve truly made it. No matter how massive and luxurious your yacht is, it won’t be long before somebody else comes along with something even grander and even more tasteless. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: enjoy your wealth

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: ready for the challenge?

ready for the challenge

Confucius said: “In their form of government, the states of Lu and Wei are like older and younger brothers.”
子曰:「魯衛之政,兄弟也。」

The older and larger an organization gets, the more difficult it is for leaders maintain its vitality and sense of purpose. Internal politics and out-of-date processes and procedures can all too easily slow it down and lead to missed opportunities and a bureaucratic, perhaps even toxic, culture. With the acceleration of new technologies like AI, it is becoming even more critical for the leadership to take immediate steps not just to reverse the slide but to transform their organization so that it can take full advantage of the huge new opportunities that are emerging. Take a deep look inside and ask yourself if you and your organization are ready for the challenge. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: ready for the challenge?

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: the correct manner

correct manner

Confucius said: “If a leader behaves in the correct manner everything will operate smoothly even if they don’t issue orders. If a leader doesn’t behave in the correct manner, nobody will listen even if they do issue orders.”
子曰:「其身正,不令而行;其身不正,雖令不從。」

If you’re not taking the right path, how can you expect others to follow you along it? If you don’t conduct yourself in the correct manner, how can you expect others to act in the right way? As so many autocrats have learned to their cost during the course of history, no amount of force is strong enough to compel people to blindly follow you. Even if repression works in the short term, it will ultimately result in your downfall – not to mention untold harm to everyone who has suffered from your hubris. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: the correct manner

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: effective learning

effective learning

Confucius said: “Imagine someone who can recite the three hundred poems of the Book of Songs by heart but is unable to carry out their job when given an official post or proves to be incapable of responding on their own initiative when sent on a mission to another state. No matter how many poems they may have memorized, what use would they be?”
子曰:「誦詩三百,授之以政,不達;使於四方,不能專對。雖多,亦奚以為?」

Even the most intensive study of a subject is of no use at all if you’re incapable of applying what you’ve learned to come up with practical solutions to real-life problems. The finest and most eloquent language is of no value at all if you’re unable to conjure up an appropriate response to a searching question from a hostile audience member. Effective learning doesn’t just require the acquisition of knowledge but also the application of it according to the needs of the situation you find yourself in. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: effective learning

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: achieving the greatest impact

greatest impact

Fan Chi asked to learn about cultivating grain. Confucius said: “You’d be better off asking an old farmer.” Fan Chi asked to learn about raising vegetables. Confucius said: “You’d be better off asking an old gardener.” 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. What need would there be to learn about farming?”
樊遲請學稼,子曰:「吾不如老農。」請學為圃,曰:「吾不如老圃。」樊遲出,子曰:「小人哉,樊須也!上好禮,則民莫敢不敬;上好義,則民莫敢不服;上好信,則民莫敢不用情。夫如是,則四方之民,襁負其子而至矣;焉用稼!」

Your time and talent are precious. Focus them on where you’ll achieve the greatest impact. If you manage a team concentrate on making sure that you have the right people, culture, and processes in place to make sure it operates successfully. Leave the technical questions for the appropriate experts. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: achieving the greatest impact

Leadership lessons from Confucius: say what you mean

say what you mean

Zilu asked: “If the Duke of Wei were to entrust you with the government of his state, what would be your first priority?” Confucius said: “It most definitely would be to rectify the names.” Zilu said: “Really? Isn’t that a little strange? How would that make things right?” Confucius said: “How dense can you get! If a leader doesn’t understand what they’re talking about, they should remain silent. If the names aren’t correct, language doesn’t accord with the truth of things. When language doesn’t accord with the truth of things, nothing can be carried out successfully. When nothing can be carried out successfully, ritual and music won’t flourish. When the ritual and music don’t flourish, punishments and penalties miss their mark. When punishments and penalties miss their mark, the people don’t know where to place their hands and feet. Therefore, a leader must be able to give the appropriate name to whatever they want to talk about, and must also make sure they does exactly as they says. When it comes to speaking, a leader doesn’t allow any carelessness.”
子路曰:「衛君待子而為政,子將奚先?」子曰:「必也正名乎!」子路曰:「有是哉?子之迂也!奚其正?」子曰:「野哉,由也!君子於其所不知,蓋闕如也。名不正,則言不順;言不順,則事不成;事不成,則禮樂不興;禮樂不興,則刑罰不中;刑罰不中,則民無所措手足。故君子名之必可言也,言之必可行也。君子於其言,無所茍而已矣!」

Say what you mean. Mean what you say. The further you deviate from the truth, the greater the problems you’ll cause – not just for you but everyone around you. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: say what you mean

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: set the right tone

set the right tone

When Ran Yong was serving as a steward of the Ji Family, he asked about governance. Confucius said: “First appoint your senior officials. Forgive small mistakes. Promote people of talent.” Ran Yong asked: “How do I recognize that someone has talent and deserves to be promoted?” Confucius said: “Promote those you know. Those you don’t know won’t be passed over.”
仲弓為季氏宰,問「政」。子曰:「先有司,赦小過,舉賢才。」曰:「焉知賢才而舉之?」曰:「舉爾所知,爾所不知,人其舍諸!」

As a leader, your role is to set the right tone for how your team operates by selecting the best talent and letting them get on with their work without attempting to micromanage them. Quite apart from demonstrating a lack of confidence in everyone’s ability to carry out their assignments, you’ll go crazy trying to keep up with everything they’re doing in any case! Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: set the right tone

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: lead the people by example

lead the people by example

Zilu asked about governance. Confucius said: “Lead the people by example. Work hard for them.” Zilu asked him for further instruction. Confucius said: “Tirelessly.”
子路問「政」。子曰:「先之,勞之。」請益。曰:「無倦。」

The only way you can expect others to perform miracles is to achieve them yourself. If you’re not leading from the front, they’re not going to be running to keep up with you. If you’re not showing passion for your work, their faces aren’t exactly going to be filled with enthusiasm. You have to prove yourself to them before they’ll feel the need to start proving themselves to you. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: lead the people by example

Notes from the field: Confucius and the universal human condition

universal human condition

I’m hoping that a second long holiday weekend in succession will give me enough time to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s on my Analects of Confucius Book 12 content. You can find all the links to the translations, commentaries, and related articles on the resources page here.

One of the most common reasons given in the West for studying the Analects is for the insights it provides into Chinese culture. That’s OK as far as it goes (though it’s important to remember that it shouldn’t be the only source) but the more I study the text, the more deeply I’m struck by how much light it sheds on the universal human condition. The hypocrisy, greed, thuggery, and other frailties that the sharp-eyed Confucius observes in his contemporaries is every bit as virulent among all of us today. Indeed, it could be argued, these traits are actually accelerating thanks to the proliferation of digital technologies like social media. Continue reading Notes from the field: Confucius and the universal human condition