Category Archives: Confucius

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

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: break with convention?

break with convention

Zilu said: “When Duke Huan had Prince Jiu put to death, Shao Hu took his own life but Guan Zhong chose to keep his. Should we say that Guan Zhong was a man without goodness?” Confucius said: “Duke Huan was able to bring the rulers of all the states together nine times without having to resort to military force because of the power of Guan Zhong. Such was his goodness! Such was his goodness!”
子路曰:「桓公殺公子糾,召忽死之,管仲不死。」曰:「未仁乎!」子曰:「桓公九合諸侯,不以兵車,管仲之力也。如其仁!如其仁!」

Is it only when your organization’s very survival is at stake that you’re willing to break with convention? When everything’s humming along smoothly do you have the courage to make daring decisions on people or products that fly in the face of accepted wisdom? Or are you content to keep on steering the ship on its current course? Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: break with convention?

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: the power of positioning

power of positioning

Confucius said: “Duke Wen of Jin was crafty and improper; Duke Huan of Qi was proper and not crafty.”
子曰:「晉文公譎而不正,齊桓公正而不譎。」

Never underestimate the power of positioning to shape perceptions of you. It can make all the difference between being seen as a strong leader rather than a tyrannical bully or as a paragon of virtue rather than a grifting virtue signaler. Once you have crafted your story, be sure to remain authentic to it. A single rash deed or word can shatter your image in an instant. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: the power of positioning

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: when your back’s against the wall

when your back's against the wall

Confucius said: “Zang Wuzhong demanded that the city of Fang be acknowledged by the Duke of Lu as his hereditary fief. Although it’s said he didn’t coerce his ruler, I don’t believe it.”
子曰:「臧武仲以防,求為後於魯,雖曰不要君,吾不信也。」

When your back’s against the wall, you sometimes have no choice but to play hard ball. If you let other people walk over you, you’ll lose the respect of your colleagues and members of your team. No matter how much criticism you attract, hang tough and fight your corner. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: when your back’s against the wall

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: getting into the zone

in the zone

Confucius asked Gongming Jia about Gongshu Wenzi: “Is it true that your master never spoke, laughed, nor took anything?” Gongming Jia replied: “Whoever told you this exaggerated. My master spoke, but only at the right time, and so no one ever thought he spoke too much; he laughed, but only when he was happy, and so no one ever thought that he laughed too much; he took things, but only when it was right, and so no one ever thought that he took too much.” Confucius said: “How commendable! Assuming of course it is true.”
子問「公叔文子」於公明賈,曰:「信乎?夫子不言不笑不取乎?」公明賈對曰:「以告者過也!夫子時然後言,人不厭其言;樂然後笑,人不厭其笑;義然後取,人不厭其取。」子曰:「其然!豈其然乎?」

How to get yourself into the zone when everything you say, do, and touch turns to gold? Even the greatest athletes and artists in the world only manage to achieve a state of peak performance on the rarest of occasions. For most of the time, they are busy fine-tuning their skills, bodies, and minds in preparation for that magical moment when they hit the perfect home run or create their masterpiece. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: getting into the zone

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a complete person

complete person

Zilu asked how to define a “complete person”. Confucius said: “Take someone as wise as Zang Wuzhong, as free from desire as Gongchuo, as brave as Zhuangzi of Bian, and as cultured as Ran Qiu, as well as being accomplished in ritual and music, and they may be considered a complete person.” Then he added: “But must a complete person be exactly like this today? Someone who thinks of what is right at the sight of profit, who is ready to risk their life when faced with danger, and who can endure hardship without forgetting the teachings that have guided their daily life may also be considered a complete person.”
子路問「成人」。子曰:「若臧武仲之知,公綽之不欲,卞莊子之勇,冉求之藝,文之以禮樂,亦可以為成人矣!」曰:「今之成人者,何必然?見利思義,見危授命,久要不忘平生之言,亦可以為成人矣!」

Nobody’s a complete person. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. That’s why assembling a strong team of people who complement each other in their abilities and personalities is so important. Nobody can do everything – and neither should they want to. A tight-knit and highly-motivated team can accomplish far more than even the most talented individual. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a complete person

Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Zixi

There is extensive debate over the identity of Zixi (子西), who makes only one rather inglorious appearance in the Analects in which Confucius compares him less than favorably to Zichan, the illustrious chief minister of the small state of Zheng.

Some commentators believe Zixi to have been a fellow minister of the great man who went on to succeed him as chief minister after his death. A few go as far as to claim that he was a brother of Zichan with the courtesy name of Gongsun Xia. Sibling or not, Zixi doesn’t appear to have distinguished himself in the post – perhaps partly because he had to operate in his renowned predecessor’s shadow. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Zixi

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: qualified to serve?

qualified to serve

Confucius said: “Meng Gongchuo is more than qualified to serve as the steward for the Zhao and Wei families, but he is not qualified to serve as a minister in the states of Teng and Xue.”
子曰:「孟公綽為趙魏老則優,不可以為滕薛大夫。」

What is the right platform for your development? A startup with plenty of potential to grow and give you exposure to a broad range of responsibilities or a large corporation that will give you an established stage to perform on and a clear future career path? Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: qualified to serve?

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a helping hand

a helping hand

Confucius said: “To be poor without being resentful is difficult; to be wealthy without being arrogant is easy.”
子曰:「貧而無怨難,富而無驕易。」

It can be all too easy to let success go to your head and view your wealth and fame as rightful rewards for your talents and virtues. After all, everyone else has the same chance to make something of themselves if only they worked as hard as you do and had the same drive, determination, and grit. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a helping hand