Confucius was talking about music with the music master of Lu. He said: “We can know this much about music: It begins with everyone trying to play together; when it gets in full swing it flows in perfect harmony, melody, and purity of tone until it reaches the end.” (1) (2)
A leader is like the conductor of an orchestra. Your job is to make sure that no matter what their function is everyone comes together and works in perfect harmony to carry out a common mission. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: perfect harmony
Duke Ai asked which wood should be used for the altar pole of the land god. Zai Yu replied: “The Xia used pine; the Yin used cypress; the Zhou used chestnut. It’s said that they wanted it to make people tremble with fear.” When Confucius heard of this, he said: “What’s done is done; no need to dredge up the past; let bygones be bygones.” (1) (2)
When someone does something dumb like Zai Yu here, it’s best to move on and forget that it ever happened. What’s done is done. There’s no point in upsetting yourself by bringing up the past. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: what’s done is done
Confucius said: “The Cry of the Ospreys is joyful without being wanton and sad without being distressing.” (1)
Words matter – particularly at a time when they can be so easily misinterpreted the moment they’re published online. That’s why it’s so important to choose them wisely when speaking or writing so that they convey exactly the right meaning and tone. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: the cry of the ospreys
Duke Ding asked: “How should a lord treat his ministers? How should ministers serve their lord?” Confucius replied: “A lord should treat his ministers in accordance with ritual; ministers should serve their lord with loyalty.” (1) (2)
Leadership is a two-way street. Treat your staff as you wish to be treated. Be polite and listen to what they have to say and they will be polite and listen to what you have to say. Remain calm and collected during a crisis and they will remain calm and collected. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: a two-way street
Confucius said: “When you serve your lord in full accordance with ritual, people regard you as a sycophant.” (1)
Take your own path. Don’t waste precious time and energy worrying what other people are thinking or saying about you. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: happy new year!
Zigong wished to do away with the sacrifice of a live sheep for the ceremony welcoming the new moon. Confucius said: “You love the sheep; I love ritual.” (1)
How to react when someone opposes a much-needed change? Do you back down or do you find other ways of making sure it’s implemented? Unfortunately, this passage doesn’t tell us whether Zigong caved in to Confucius or continued to fight his corner. I hope he took the former tack – but given Zigong’s devotion to the sage I suspect he adopted the latter one. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: welcoming the new moon
Confucius said: “In archery, it doesn’t matter whether you pierce the covering of the target, because some archers are stronger than others. This is the way of the ancients.” (1) (2)
There’s no need to overdo things. Clear your mind and relax. Focus on the process rather than trying to impress everyone around you or worrying that others will be stronger or more powerful than you. That way you will not only have a better chance of hitting the target but will also be able to save your energy so that you are ready to take on the next challenge. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: on archery
Whenever Confucius visited the Grand Ancestral Temple, he asked about everything that was happening there. Someone said: “Who said this son of a man from Zou is an expert on ritual? When he visits the Grand Ancestral Temple, he has to ask about everything that’s happening.” Hearing this, Confucius said: “Exactly, this is ritual.” (1) (2)
Don’t be afraid of asking questions. There’s always something new to learn even if you’re already familiar with the subject under discussion. Don’t worry about ridiculed for asking them either. You should always take it as a compliment when someone wants to show that they’re superior to you. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: asking questions
Confucius said: “The Zhou dynasty modeled itself upon the two previous dynasties. What a great civilization! I am a follower of Zhou!”
Look to the past as well as the future. Respect its great traditions and draw on its well of great wisdom. Learn from the mistakes that were made to avoid repeating them. Continue reading leadership lessons from Confucius: a follower of Zhou!
Wangsun Jia asked: “What does this saying mean: ‘Better pray to the kitchen god rather than the household gods’?” Confucius said: “This is nonsense. If you sin against heaven, you have no god you can pray to.”
Be polite and friendly with everyone you come into contact with – not just people you think will be able to help you climb the career ladder. Flattering the boss, or indeed the kitchen god, might earn you a few brownie points, but your long-term success depends on your ability to work effectively with everybody. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: better pray to the kitchen god?