All posts by Richard Brown

Leadership lessons from Confucius: personal development path

personal development path

子曰:「吾十有五而志于學,三十而立,四十而不惑,五十而知天命,六十而耳順,七十而從心所欲,不踰矩。」
The Master said: “At fifteen, I applied myself to learning. At thirty, I set my course. At forty, I had no more doubts. At fifty, I understood how the world works. At sixty my ear was attuned. At seventy, I followed all my heart’s desires without overstepping the line.” (1) (2) (3)

Do you have a personal development path? How do you see yourself growing over the next few decades? Will you be able to achieve the same level of contentment that Confucius claims to have reached in this famous snapshot that he composed of his life. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: personal development path

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: unintended consequences

Beijing Confucius Temple: unintended consequences

子曰:「道之以政,齊之以刑,民免而無恥;道之以德,齊之以禮,有恥且格。」
The Master said: “If you lead through laws and regulations and maintain order through punishments, people will avoid them but won’t develop a sense of shame. If you lead through virtue and keep them in line with the rites, they will develop a sense of shame and unite behind you.”

Whenever government or business leaders are faced with an ethical crisis, their instinctive response is to pass a raft of new legislation, regulations, rules, and codes of conduct to “solve” it. While in the short term this approach may give the illusion that they are “doing something” (not to mention generating some handy headlines), in the long term it has the highly corrosive effect of widening the gap between the elite and the people and increasing the level of interference into individuals’ lives. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: unintended consequences

Situational leadership in The Analects and the Daodejing

One very good reason to study The Analects and the Daodejing is that, for all the archaic and in the latter case mystic language they feature, these two ancient works focus on providing practical solutions to real-world problems.

Unlike many of the works in the Western philosophical cannon, neither text features an agonized search for a universal “truth” or any promises of eternal salvation for ascribing to the “right” set of values or behaving in the “correct” manner. Instead, they are concerned with dealing with the challenges of the here and now, exploring how you can improve your character to make a greater contribution to the stability and prosperity of your family, community, and society overall. Continue reading Situational leadership in The Analects and the Daodejing

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: like the Pole Star

moral power

子曰:「為政以德,譬如北辰,居其所而眾星共之。」
The Master said: “Governing by the power of virtue can be compared to the Pole Star, which remains fixed in place while all the other stars orbit respectfully around it.”

As a leader, your most important task is to set a shining example to the people around you through your virtue (德/dé), a term which can be extended to mean ethical or moral power. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: like the Pole Star

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: quiet satisfaction

Temple of Confucius: quiet satisfaction

子曰:「不患人之不己之,患不知人也。」
The Master said: “Don’t be concerned about other people failing to acknowledge you; be concerned about failing to acknowledge them.”

Leadership isn’t a popularity contest. It’s not a race for fame and fortune. It’s a constant process of “carving and polishing stones” to sharpen your ability to build and develop a self-sustaining team that requires minimal intervention from you in how it operates. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: quiet satisfaction

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: like carving and polishing stones

like carving and polishing stones

子貢曰:「貧而無諂,富而無驕,何如?」子曰:「可也,未若貧而樂,富而好禮者也。」子貢曰:「詩云:『如切如磋,如琢如磨』,其斯之謂與?」子曰:「賜也,始可與言詩已矣,告諸往而知來者。」
Zigong said: “’Poor but not subservient; wealthy but not arrogant.’ What do you think of that?” The Master said: “Not bad, but this would be better still: ‘Poor but content; wealthy but loves the rites.’” Zigong said: “In the Book of Songs it is said: ‘Like carving and polishing stones, like cutting and grinding gems.’ Is this not the same idea?” Confucius said: “Wonderful, Zigong! At last I can discuss the Book of Songs with you! Based on what I’ve already said, you can work out what’s coming next!”

“Like carving and polishing stones, like cutting and grinding gems.” This line from the ancient Book of Songs (1) that Zigong (2) quotes to Confucius during their bout of poetic banter provides the perfect metaphor for the process of self-cultivation. The modern-day equivalent would be, I suppose, “sharpening the saw.” Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: like carving and polishing stones

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: love learning

love learning

子曰:「君子食無求飽,居無求安,敏於事而慎於言,就有道而正焉,可謂好學也已。」
The Master said: “A leader eats without filling his stomach; he chooses a home without demanding comfort; he is diligent in his work and cautious in his speech; and he keeps the company of others who possess the way to make sure that he stays on the right path. This is what it means to truly love learning.” (1)

Leadership requires focusing your energy on cultivating the self rather than pursuing the material trappings of success. This means working hard, being careful about what you say, and spending your time with people who can help you improve through the example they set and the knowledge they share with you. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: love learning

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: rash promises

rash promises

有子曰:「信近於義,言可復也。恭近於禮,遠恥辱也。因不失其親,亦可宗也。」
Youzi said: “If your commitments conform to what is right, you will be able to keep your word. If your manners conform to the rites, you will be able to avoid shame and disgrace. Only if you associate with reliable people will you be successful.”

Making rash promises that you have no hope or intention of fulfilling is a sure way of eroding the trust that people have in you. You might be able to get away with it for a while through sheer force of personality or verbal dexterity, but eventually the chickens will come home to roost and your credibility will be destroyed. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: rash promises