What is goodness (仁)? This is a question that confounded the followers of Confucius just as much as it has generation after generation of scholars hoping to capture the sage’s secret ingredient and wrap it up in a pretty package with a bow on top.
In the first chapter of Analects Book 14, Confucius’s follower Yuan Xian shows that he considers goodness to be the ethical gold standard when he asks the sage if you can be said to have achieved it if you overcome “aggressiveness, arrogance, bitterness, and greed.” Continue reading Goodness in Analects Book 14: more than just an ethical gold standard
Confucius said: “A leader adheres to three principles that I haven’t been able to live up to: the good are never anxious; the wise are never perplexed; the brave are never afraid.” Zigong said: “Master, you’ve just described yourself.”
There’s no harm in admitting to others that you’re not perfect. Like everyone else you have your strengths and weaknesses. Better to show people that you acknowledge the aspects of your character that need to improve rather than try to hide or deny them. Anyone who cares about you will respect you for it. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: not perfect
Confucius said: “Although a leader may not always achieve goodness, a petty person never achieves it.”
We all make mistakes. When we do so, it’s important to pause and reflect on why it happened. Was it based on the right intentions or selfish motives? Did we deliberately cross the line or were we simply being careless? Was it an isolated incident or was it part of a pattern of recurring behavior? The deeper we dig, the greater the opportunity we have to learn more about ourselves and take the necessary steps to address the areas we need to improve in. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: pause and reflect
Confucius said: “The virtuous have a lot to teach others; but people who have a lot to teach others aren’t necessarily virtuous. The good are always brave; but the brave aren’t necessarily good.”
Fine words and brave deeds aren’t enough to prove that someone is truly virtuous or good. It can be all too easy for people to conceal their true nature with soaring oratory and ostentatious posturing when the potential downside is minimal and the potential upside in terms of publicity is huge. After all, calling for the government to bring an end to poverty after your financial advisors have optimized your tax liability costs you far less than actually digging into your pocket to fund some projects to address the problem yourself. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: fine words and brave deeds
Yuan Xian asked about shamefulness. Confucius said: “Caring only about your official salary no matter whether good or bad government prevails in the state. That is shamefulness.” “If you overcome contentiousness, arrogance, bitterness, and greed can you be said to have achieved true goodness?” Confucius said: “You can be said to have achieved something difficult; but I don’t know whether it’s true goodness.”
Becoming a good leader involves much more than overcoming your weaknesses and character defects – no matter how egregious they might be. It also means harnessing your strengths and virtues in order to make a greater contribution to your family, organization, and society. The more you deny yourself the experience of engaging with your emotions and desires, the less able you are to understand and empathize with other people. By stepping away from the daily fray and basking in self-righteousness, you risk losing touch with reality and minimizing the positive impact that you would otherwise have on everybody. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: overcoming your weaknesses
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
Fan Chi asked about goodness. Confucius said: “Be considerate in your private life, diligent in your public affairs, and loyal in your relationships with others. Even when you’re among the Yi and Di tribes, don’t deviate from these principles.”
There are no big secrets to leading a good life. If you treat people kindly, work hard, and build close relationships with others, you will have a great time no matter where you are and who you happen to be with. As much as some would like to accentuate our differences, the core values all of us live by are very much the same. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a good life
Confucius said: “Even with a true king, it would still take one generation for goodness to prevail.”
Look behind the hype of digital transformation. While there’s no doubt that new technologies like big data, deep learning, and artificial intelligence have the potential to improve how we live and work in hugely beneficial ways, they do carry inherent risks if they’re not developed and implemented in a wise and responsible manner. Creating trillions of dollars of new wealth will only lead to greater social instability and polarization if it all ends up in the hands of a miniscule minority to the exclusion of the many. Even with far-sighted leadership, digital transformation will be an extremely messy and risky process. Are you and your organization ready for the social, economic, and business disruption that will inevitably accompany it? Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: digital transformation
Book 12 of the Analects of Confucius kicks off with a lively exploration of the nature of the supreme virtue of goodness in the first three chapters. As is his custom, Confucius doesn’t even attempt to provide a single all-encompassing definition of the term. Instead, he tailors his responses to lay out the standards that his three questioners need to meet to move closer towards achieving it.
Naturally, Confucius places the bar the highest for his protégé Yan Hui, telling him in 12.1 that if he “manages to exercise self-discipline and to return to ritual for just one single day, goodness will prevail throughout the world.” By strictly adhering to the rules of propriety, Yan Hui would set an example that everyone else would automatically follow. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 12 Overview
Fan Chi asked about goodness. Confucius said: “Love others.” He then asked about wisdom. Confucius said: “Know others.” Fan Chi didn’t understand. Confucius said: “Promote the upright and place them above the crooked, so that they can straighten the crooked.” Fan Chi left. When he met Zixia he asked: “A short while ago when I saw Confucius I asked him about wisdom. He said: ‘Promote the upright and place them above the crooked, so that they can straighten the crooked.’ What does this mean?” Zixia said: “These are rich words indeed! When Shun ruled the world and was choosing from among the masses, he selected Gao Yao and those without goodness went away. When Tang ruled the world and was choosing from among the masses, he selected Yi Yin and those without goodness went away.”
One of the most important attributes of a leader is to be an excellent judge of character. Without having the right people in place, it’s impossible to build a strong and vibrant culture in your organization. Even the most beautifully crafted vision and values statements won’t have a cat in hell’s chance of being implemented if you if there’s nobody on the ground to embody them. Be very careful in how you hire and develop people to make sure you “promote the upright and place them above the crooked.” Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: promote the upright