Leadership lessons from Confucius: the more you lean in one direction

lean in

子曰:「奢則不孫,儉則固。與其不孫也,寧固。」
Confucius said: “Just as extravagance leads to arrogance, frugality leads to meanness. It’s better to be mean rather than arrogant.”

The more you become accustomed to a luxurious lifestyle, the higher your expectations become. A standard room in a five-star hotel no longer enough to satisfy your needs. You really need an elaborate suite with an awesome view of the beach to get a decent night’s sleep. After all, you deserve the very best, don’t you? You’re so much smarter and hard-working than the hoi-polloi. It’s about time you received the benefits you’re entitled to. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: the more you lean in one direction

Leadership lessons from Confucius: permission to pray

permission to pray

子疾病,子路請禱。子曰:「有諸?」子路對曰:「有之。誄曰:『禱爾于上下神祗』」子曰:「丘之禱久矣。」 (1)
When Confucius fell seriously ill, Zilu asked permission to pray. Confucius said: “Does such a practice exist?” Zilu replied: “Certainly. The liturgy says: ‘We pray to the spirits from above and the spirits from below.’” Confucius said: “If that’s the case, I’ve been praying for myself for a long time now.”

Is it appropriate to offer to pray for someone if they don’t share your religious beliefs? No doubt Zilu was so worried about his master’s condition that he was willing to try anything that might help him to stay alive, but Confucius clearly thought not and decided stuck to his own secular principles. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: permission to pray

Leadership lessons from Confucius: the best thing since sliced bread

best thing since sliced bread

子曰:「若聖與仁,則吾豈敢?抑為之不厭,誨人不倦,則可謂云爾已矣。」公西華曰:「正唯弟子不能學也。」
Confucius said: “How could I possibly dare to claim that I’m a man of great wisdom and goodness? All that can be said of me is that I never grow weary of learning and never get tired of teaching others.” Gongxi Chi said: “This is exactly what we students are unable to grasp.”

Better not to blow your own trumpet. If you’re anywhere near as good as you think you are, others will no doubt sing your praises. Just don’t let all the compliments go to your head, that’s all. Even if everyone else thinks that you’re the best thing since sliced bread, you know deep down that the moment you rest on your laurels complacency will set in and the downward slide will begin. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: the best thing since sliced bread

Leadership lessons from Confucius: room for improvement

room for improvement

子曰:「文,莫吾猶人也。躬行君子,則吾未之有得。」
Confucius said: “Although my commitment is as strong as anyone’s when it comes to cultural knowledge and refinement, I haven’t yet hit the target of becoming a true leader in how I conduct myself.”

No matter how accomplished and successful you are, there’s always room for improvement. That doesn’t mean that you should constantly beat yourself up for your inevitable failings, but that that you should be able to reflect calmly on them and take concrete steps to address them in the future. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: room for improvement

Leadership lessons from Confucius: joining in the harmony

joining in the harmony

子與人歌而善,必使反之,而後和之。
Whenever Confucius was together with other people who were singing and they sang a song well, he always asked them to repeat it before joining in the harmony.

There’s no need to intervene when your team is performing well. Sit back and enjoy the show. Observe how closely they work together and harmonize their goals and actions. Admire their creativity and talent as you listen to the music they’re playing. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: joining in the harmony

Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Wu Mengzi

Wu Mengzi (吳孟子) was the name that Duke Zhao of Lu (魯昭公) gave to his wife to mask the fact that he had violated a strict ritual convention by marrying a woman with the same family name (姬/Jī) as his own. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Wu Mengzi

Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Duke Zhao of Lu

Duke Zhao (昭公) was the predecessor of Duke Ding (定公) as the ruler of Confucius’s home state of Lu. He spent much of his reign from 541–510 BCE struggling to prevent his power being undermined by the Three Families, Jisun 季孫, Mengsun 孟孫, and Shusun 叔孫, that dominated the state. Ultimately, he failed in his attempts to control them and spent the last part of his life in exile in the states of Qi and Jin. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Duke Zhao of Lu

Followers of Confucius: Wuma Qi

Very little is known about the follower Wuma Qi (巫馬期), who makes only a single appearance in the Analects of Confucius. Some sources suggest that he was the successor to the follower Zijian (子賤) as the chief magistrate (宰/zǎi) of Danfu (單父) located in modern-day Shandong province. Continue reading Followers of Confucius: Wuma Qi

Leadership lessons from Confucius: a short and succinct answer

succinct answer

陳司敗問昭公知禮乎,孔子曰:「知禮。」孔子退,揖巫馬期而進之曰:「吾聞君子不黨,君子亦黨乎?君取於吳,為同姓,謂之吳孟子。君而知禮,孰不知禮?」巫馬期以告。子曰:「丘也幸,苟有過,人必知之。」
The Minister of Justice of Chen asked: “Did Duke Zhao understand ritual?” Confucius said: “Yes, he understood ritual.” Confucius withdrew. With a bow, the minister invited Wuma Qi to come forward and said to him: “I’ve heard it said that a true leader is never biased. But isn’t your master biased after all? The duke took a wife from the state of Wu; but because she had the same family name, he called her Wu Mengzi. If the duke understood ritual, who doesn’t understand it?” Wuma Qi reported this to Confucius. Confucius said: “I’m fortunate indeed: whenever I make a mistake, there’s always someone on hand to let me know about it.” (1) (2) (3)

Don’t let yourself get drawn into an argument when someone asks you a question that is designed to embarrass you. Give a short and succinct answer and shrug off any mock outrage that ensues from it. Life’s too short to waste time getting upset about it. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: a short and succinct answer

Leadership lessons from Confucius: the search for goodness

search for goodness

子曰:「仁遠乎哉?我欲仁,斯仁至矣。」
Confucius said: “Is goodness really so far away? No sooner do I desire goodness than it’s at hand.”

The search for goodness is a cumulative process. The harder you work to hone your character, sharpen your skills, and deepen your knowledge, the closer you come to finding it. The key is to keep on striving towards it every day. There are no magical spells or five-step formulas to instant success. The greater the effort and commitment you put into it, the greater the rewards and satisfaction you will reap. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: the search for goodness