Qu Boyu (蘧伯玉) was the courtesy name of Qu Yuan, a high-ranking official in the state of Wei, who was celebrated for his never-ending quest for self-improvement and his refusal to serve unprincipled rulers. Such was his renown that he is featured in many of the great historical and philosophical texts of the Warring States period, including the Zuo Commentary, the Zhuangzi, and the Huainanzi.
Some commentators speculate that Confucius may have stayed with Qu Boyu, who was nearly forty years older than him, during the time he spent in Wei – but there is no historical evidence to support this claim. However, it is very clear from Confucius’s comments in 14.25 and 15.7 that he was a great admirer of him. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Qu Boyu
Confucius was striking some stone chimes in Wei. A man carrying a basket passed in front of the gate of the house where he was staying and said: “Whoever is playing music like that seems to have something else on his mind!” A little while later, he added: “What a tiresome racket! If no one understands what you are trying to say, keep it to yourself!”
When the water is deep, wade through it with your clothes on;
When the water is shallow, hold up the hem of your gown.”
Confucius said: “He certainly doesn’t mince his words! I don’t have any response to that!”
The more you obsess about a problem, the more you risk losing sight of a solution. Instead of worrying about how you’re going to come up with enough money to fund the construction of a multi-million-dollar bridge to cross the river, set your mind free to explore other alternatives. Or better still talk to other people to find out their perspectives. When it comes to generating creative ideas, two or more heads are far more effective than one – not to mention a lot more fun to work with than banging your own head against the wall. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: striking some stone chimes
Qu Boyu sent a messenger to Confucius. Confucius sat together with him and asked: “How is your master?” The messenger replied: “My master wishes to reduce his faults, but he hasn’t succeeded yet.” The messenger left. Confucius said: “The perfect messenger! The perfect messenger!”
Everyone in your organization is an ambassador. Have you trained them to make sure they represent it in the appropriate manner? That doesn’t just mean at formal events and meetings, but on the phone and social media. As personal and professional lives become ever more closely integrated, this is becoming an increasingly tough challenge. You need make your expectations very clear, so that people no excuses for failing to meet them. If someone bridles against the limitations you set, remain firm. There are plenty of other opportunities that they can pursue if they feel the standards are too strict. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: the perfect messenger!
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
Confucius said: “If a ruler were to employ me, I would have everything under control in one year and in three years the results would show.”
Never underestimate how challenging it is to drive meaningful change. Stirring vision statements and pretty PowerPoint slides are just the starting point. It takes a huge amount of time, effort, and commitment to make sure that everyone not only accepts and understands the new direction you’re leading the organization in but also embraces and implements it. If you don’t actively lead from the front, nobody will get behind you. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: driving meaningful change
Duke Chu of Wei (衛出公) only became the ruler of the state because his father, the former crown prince Ji Kuaikui (姬蒯瞶), had been forced to flee the state after failing in an attempt to kill Nanzi (南子), the notorious consort of his father, Duke Ling (衛靈公), in 499 BCE. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Duke Chu of Wei
Ran Qiu said: “Does the Master support the Duke of Wei?” Zigong said: “Well, I’m going to ask him.” Zigong went in and asked Confucius: “What sort of people were Boyi and Shuqi?” “They were virtuous men of old.” “Did they complain?” “They sought goodness and attained goodness. Why should they have complained?” Zigong left and said to Ran Qiu: “The Master does not support the Duke of Wei.” (1) (2) (3) (4)
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that other people will support you just because you have a good relationship with them. Learn to accept that their opinions will differ from yours no matter how close you happen to be with them. In fact, the stronger the bond you have with someone, the greater the chance that they will free to voice their disagreement with you. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: a tawdry tale
Wangsun Jia (王孫賈) was a noted general and the chief minister of Duke Ling of Wei, the ruler of one of the states that Confucius visited in his fruitless quest for employment during his exile from his home state of Lu.
No doubt feeling threatened by the arrival of the sage in in 496 BCE, he obliquely warns Confucius in 3.13 to go through him rather than directly to his ruler by quoting an old proverb about praying to the kitchen god. Despite Wangsun Jia’s previous opposition, Confucius applauds him in 14.19 for the role he played along with his two fellow ministers Zhu Tuo and Kong Wenzi in keeping the state of Wei functioning under the fickle rule of Duke Ling and his consort Nanzi. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Wangsun Jia
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?