Category Archives: Confucius

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

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: unleash everyone’s full potential

Confucius said that Duke Ling of Wei didn’t follow the way. Ji Kangzi said: “If this is the case, how come he hasn’t lost his state?” Confucius said: “He has Kong Wenzi looking after guests and foreign delegations, Zhu Tuo taking care of the ancestral temple, and Wangsun Jia in charge of defense. With such officials as these, how could he possibly lose his state?”
子言衛靈公之無道也,康子曰:「夫如是,奚而不喪?」孔子曰:「仲叔圉治賓客,祝鮀治宗廟,王孫賈治軍旅,夫如是,奚其喪?」

You’re only as good as the people you have around you. Be careful to ensure that you put the right person in each job and that their personalities and abilities mesh with each other. When you have everyone in place and the team is functioning smoothly, resist the temptation to take things easy. That’s the time to start planning how to take things to the next level and unleash everyone’s full potential. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: unleash everyone’s full potential

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: ready for promotion

ready for promotion

The steward of Gongshu Wenzi, Zhuan, was promoted together with him to the duke’s court. Confucius heard this and said: “Gongshu truly deserves to be called ‘the Refined.’”
公叔文子之臣大夫僎,與文子同升諸公。子聞之曰:「可以為文矣!」

If you’ve done your job right, there will inevitably come a time when a member of your team is ready for promotion to a position that’s the same level as yours or perhaps even a higher one. Don’t stand in their way when this happens. Take it as a positive affirmation of your leadership abilities and wish them the greatest of success in their new assignment. Your key responsibility is to develop talent for the good of the whole organization. You should be proud to have played a key role in enabling them to reach their full potential. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: ready for promotion

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: sharp retorts and derisive comments

derisive comments

Zigong said: “Guan Zhong wasn’t a good person, was he? After Duke Huan had Prince Jiu put to death, he not only chose to live but also served as the duke’s chief minister.” Confucius said: “By serving as Duke Huan’s chief minister, Guan Zhong imposed his authority over all the states and brought order to the world; the people still reap the benefits of his actions until this day. Without Guan Zhong, we would still be wearing our hair loose and folding our robes on the wrong side. Or would you prefer it if he had drowned himself in a ditch like some wretched husband or wife in their petty fidelity and died with nobody knowing about it?”
子貢曰:「管仲非仁者與?桓公殺公子糾,不能死,又相之。」子曰:「管仲相桓公,霸諸侯,一匡天下,民到于今受其賜。微管仲,吾其被髮左衽矣!豈若匹夫匹婦之為諒也,自經於溝瀆,而莫之知也!」

No matter how many times you’ve been asked the same question, there’s no need to explode when someone raises it yet again. Sharp retorts and derisive comments may make you feel good at the time, but they add nothing to the conversation. At best they will only serve to discourage open discussion and debate among your staff and at worst they could end up destroying your career. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: sharp retorts and derisive comments