More by accident than design, I’ve completed my translations and commentaries for all the chapters in Book 13 of the Analects on my birthday. Not that I’m in any particular mood to celebrate given the darkening cloud that is shrouding the times that we live in.
While Confucius chose to never speak of pestilence and other natural disasters, he would certainly have had plenty to say about the fecklessness of the global ruling elite. He wouldn’t hold back his criticism of the tsunami of fake news and disinformation that is sweeping the planet either. Continue reading Notes from the field: Confucius and the rectification of the names
Confucius said: “Sending people to war who have not been properly instructed is called ‘throwing them away.’”
Is training an expense or an investment? This is a very difficult question to answer, not least because even with the most sophisticated tools and models it’s almost impossible to show a direct link between money spent on staff training and financial performance. Indeed, it’s probably much easier to show losses caused by employees leaving for better-paid jobs after receiving excellent (and expensive) training from their organization! Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: an expense or an investment?
Confucius said: “If a good leader instructs the people for seven years they’re ready for just about anything, even taking up arms.”
The larger and stronger your organizations grows, the greater the likelihood that it will draw unfriendly fire – whether it’s from a competitor aiming to defend its market share, customers hoping to cut your pricing, politicians looking to score a few cheap brownie points, or regulators hoping to make their mark. Or perhaps from all quarters at the same time! Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: unfriendly fire
Zilu asked: “What qualities must you possess to be called a true scholar-official?” Confucius said: “Supportive, candid, and warm: such a person deserves to be called a true scholar-official. Supportive and candid with their friends and warm towards their brothers.”
How can you be a true friend with someone if you’re reluctant to tell them what you really think? Even at the potential cost of hurting their feelings, you shouldn’t hold back if you’re less than impressed with their latest madcap business idea or romantic attachment. Neither, course, should you feel hurt if they express their unvarnished opinions about your latest plans and activities. Better to hear the truth from a true friend that you know and trust than a mere acquaintance or a complete stranger. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a true friend
Confucius said: “Firmness, determination, simplicity, modesty: these bring us closer to goodness.”
There are always going to be occasions when you wonder if it’s worth continuing along your path. Boredom, frustration at the lack of visible progress, and pressure from your boss, colleagues, and even friends and family can all come together to make you question whether you wouldn’t be better off abandoning it and take another route.
Think carefully before you decide to take such a dramatic step. No matter what path you choose to take, you’re always going to encounter tough challenges along the way. The real question you need to ask yourself is whether you have the grit required to overcome them when they arise. The grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side. No matter what path you choose to pursue, the same qualities will be required if you are to achieve success. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: closer to goodness
Confucius said: “A leader is confident but never arrogant. A petty person is arrogant but never confident.”
Even though it can often be very difficult to distinguish between confidence and arrogance, the difference between them is huge. Confidence is based on a solid foundation of hard work and strong core values that keep you grounded in reality. Arrogance is based on a sea of shifting sands of boundless hope and deep despair. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: confident but never arrogant
Confucius said: “A leader is easy to work for but hard to please. If you try to please them without following the proper way they won’t be happy, but they’ll only give you tasks you have the ability to carry out. A petty person is hard to work for, but easy to please. If you try to please them, even without following the proper way, they’ll be happy, but they’ll demand that you have the ability to do anything.”
Be honest with yourself. Are you easy to work for? Do you set clear expectations for your staff and pay close attention to their progress or do you throw them in the deep end to see if they sink or swim? Do you respond more positively to staff who suck up to you or those who are willing to challenge you when they think you’re going in the wrong direction? Perhaps amid the endless pile of issues you find yourself having to deal with during your day, you don’t even notice inconsistencies in the way you treat your staff or react to news and events. Better take a step back and reflect on how you actually lead your team before your best people decide it’s time to jump ship. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: easy to work for?
Zigong asked: “If a person is liked by all the people in their village, what would you think?” Confucius said: “That’s not good enough.” “And if this person is loathed by all the people in the village, what would you think?” “That’s not good enough either. It would be better if the good people in the village liked them and the bad people loathed them.”
Leadership isn’t a popularity contest. You can’t please all the people all the time – and neither should you even try to. Instead you should focus on making the right decisions that best serve the interests of the people you’re leading. The “good” ones will instinctively understand what you’re doing and hence “like” or at least respect you, even if they don’t necessarily agree with every particular decision you make. As for the “bad” ones, the more they “loathe” you for the actions you take, the more they demonstrate that you’re on the right track. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: not a popularity contest
Confucius said: “A leader strives for harmony but not conformity. A petty person strives for conformity but not harmony.”
It’s never easy to handle differences in opinion between your team members, but your responsibility as a leader is to harmonize the diverse notes of opinion into a single coherent tune that everyone can agree to play like the musicians in an orchestra. Achieving harmony is a lot more difficult in the early stages of the process than imposing conformity, but the long-term results are far more positive and lasting. While harmony provides a framework for promoting the frank and exchange of ideas, conformity kills discussion and creativity. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: harmony but not conformity
Confucius said: “Southerners have a saying: ‘A person who lacks constancy is unfit to be a shaman.’ This is so true! The Book of Changes says, ‘if you’re not constant in virtue, you’ll suffer disgrace.’” Confucius added: “Not even a divination will be of any use for a person like that.”
As the pace of market disruption continues to accelerate thanks to continued advances in AI, it’s going to be more and more challenging to predict the future of your organization. That makes it all the more important to have a clear long-term vision and set of core values to provide a compass for steering the right course as it is being buffeted by the driving rain and roaring waves. Without a consistent decision-making framework and process, not even a divination will be enough to help you to foresee the rocks and reefs you will need to avoid amid the storms that loom ahead. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: unfit to be a shaman