Category Archives: Confucius

Leadership lessons from Confucius: words of praise

words of praise

子曰:「法語之言,能無從乎?改之為貴!巽與之言,能無說乎?繹之為貴!說而不繹,從而不改,吾末如之何也已矣!」 (1)
Confucius said: “How can we turn a deaf ear to pertinent words of advice? But they only have any value if we act on them. How can fail to be delighted by words of praise. But they only have any value if we understand their true purpose. People who are delighted by praise but don’t understand the reason for it and people who accept words of advice without acting on them – I have absolutely no idea what to do with them!”

When someone asks you for advice, give it freely and frankly. If they decide not to follow your counsel, don’t take it personally. But if they come to ask you advice again, don’t waste your time sharing your thoughts. They’re clearly not that interested in what you have to say. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: words of praise

Leadership lessons from Confucius: young people

young people

子曰:「後生可畏,焉知來者之不如今也?四十五十而無聞焉,斯亦不足畏也已!」
Confucius said: “We should hold young people in high esteem: how do we know that the next generation will not equal the current one? But those who reach the age of forty or fifty without distinguishing themselves are no longer worthy of being treated with esteem.”

It can be all too easy to criticize young people for their weaknesses and foibles. How could they possibly be as smart and hardworking as we were at that age? After all, we didn’t enjoy any of the comforts and conveniences that they do now. The only phone we had was at home and we weren’t allowed to use it very much because calls were so expensive. Now, of course, the young spend all their time with their heads buried in the screen of their super-expensive devices. Let’s not even think about the quality of the coffee we were forced drink in pre-barista days or the crappy food. We had things far tougher than they have. They don’t even know they’ve been born! Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: young people

Leadership lessons from Confucius: grow and blossom

grow and blossom

子曰:「苗而不秀者,有矣夫!秀而不實者,有矣夫!」
Confucius said: “There are some plants that grow but never blossom; there are others that blossom but never bear fruit.”

The odds of building a successful startup are extremely low. According to various estimates only around one in ten make it. That doesn’t mean you should give up on your dream of entrepreneurial success, but that you should be well aware of the risks before you embark on your venture and make sure that you’re prepared for the challenges ahead. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: grow and blossom

Leadership lessons from Confucius: a bitter pill to swallow

bitter pill to swallow

子謂顏淵曰:「惜乎!吾見其進也,吾未見其止也!」
Confucius said of Yan Hui: “What a tragedy! I watched him make progress; I never saw him stop improving.” (1) (2)

How to react when someone you’ve mentored closely decides to move on? This can be a bitter pill to swallow when you’ve invested a lot of time and resources in helping someone develop their skills only to see them bestow the benefits of their knowledge and experience to another organization. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: a bitter pill to swallow

Leadership lessons from Confucius: presentation tips

presentation tips

子曰:「語之而不惰者,其回也與?」
Confucius said: “If anyone could listen to me without growing weary, who else could it be than Yan Hui?” (1)

It takes more than a stunning PowerPoint deck and a compelling story to maintain people’s attention when they are just a tap on their smartphone screen away from the temptations of social media and email. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: presentation tips

Leadership lessons from Confucius: perseverance and perspiration

perseverance and perspiration

子曰:「譬如為山,未成一簣,止,吾止也!譬如平地,雖覆一簣,進,吾往也!」
Confucius said: “Let’s take piling up earth to build a mound as an example: even if I stop when I only need to pile on one last basket of earth, I have still stopped. Let’s take filling a hole in the ground as another example: if I have emptied the first basket of earth, I only need to keep on emptying more in order to continue to make progress.”

It doesn’t matter how much progress you’ve already made if you give up before achieving your goal. The responsibility for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory rests on your shoulders alone. You have no right or reason to blame anyone else. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: perseverance and perspiration

Leadership lessons from Confucius: appearances matter

appearances matter

子曰:「吾未見好德如好色者也。」
Confucius said: “I’ve never seen anyone who loves virtue as much as physical beauty.”

Don’t delude yourself: appearances matter. If you can’t be bothered to dress for the role you’re being interviewed for, why should your prospective employer be bothered to hire you? If a company that’s trying to do business with you can’t be bothered to have a clean and attractive website, why should you be bothered to give them an order? Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: appearances matter

Leadership lessons from Confucius: time flows like a mountain stream

time flows

子在川上曰:「逝者如斯夫!不舍晝夜。」
Standing on the bank of a stream, Confucius said: “Thus it flows, never ceasing day and night.”

Time flows like a mountain stream, never ceasing day and night. Before you know it, you’ve graduated from college and started your first job. In a few years, you’re married and buying your first house. After that, the kids come along and when you’ve raised them to adulthood you see them strike out on their own after graduating from college. Perhaps grandkids are somewhere on the horizon. Only time will tell. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: time flows like a mountain stream

Leadership lessons from Confucius: pride comes before the fall

pride comes before the fall

子曰:「出則事公卿,入則事父兄,喪事不敢不勉,不為酒困,何有於我哉!」
Confucius said: “Serving the duke and his ministers at court; serving my elders at home; mourning the dead with proper reverence; not being troubled by drink: how could I find any of these things difficult?”

Best not to become too complacent. Just as you think that you have control of your life, something is bound to happen that will knock you off balance. Pride comes before the fall. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: pride comes before the fall

Leadership lessons from Confucius: making the most of your golden years

golden years

子曰:「吾自衛反魯,然後樂正,雅頌,各得其所。」
Confucius said: “It was only after I returned to Lu from Wei that I revised the Book of Music and put the Court Songs and Sacrificial Hymns in the proper order.” (1) (2)

Have you finalized your retirements plans? I’m not just talking about making sure you have made sufficient financial provision for it, but also working out how you’ll spend your time. Endless rounds of golf might sound fun in theory, but will they provide the same levels of intellectual and emotional stimulation as well as sense of purpose that you’re used to at work? Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: making the most of your golden years