Tag Archives: Confucius on governance

Leadership lessons from Confucius: pay attention to the white spaces

white spaces

季子然問:「仲由、冉求,可謂大臣與?」子曰:「吾以子為異之問,曾由與求之問。所謂大臣者,以道事君,不可則止;今由與求也,可謂具臣矣。」曰:「然則從之者與?」子曰:「弒父與君,亦不從也。」
Ji Ziran asked: “Would you say that Zilu and Ran Qiu are great ministers?” Confucius said: “I thought you were going to ask about somebody else; I never expected that you would ask about Zilu and Ran Qiu. A really great minister serves his lord by following the way and resigns if there is no possibility of doing so. As for Zilu and Ran Qiu, they might just about be qualified for an unfilled vacancy.” Ji Ziran said: “Do you mean that they can be counted on to follow orders?” Confucius said: “They wouldn’t go quite so far as murdering their father or their lord.”

Pay close attention to the white spaces. It’s often what’s left unsaid rather than what’s actually said that’s more significant. Although Confucius disses his followers Zilu and Ran Qiu for compromising their integrity by working for the Ji Family, his main objective is to warn Ji Ziran and his clan against launching a coup to overthrow the legitimate ruler of the state, the Duke of Lu. Hence his final quip (if that’s the right word) that even two such feckless individuals as Zilu and Ran Qiu “wouldn’t go quite so far as murdering their father or their lord.” Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: pay attention to the white spaces

Historical characters in the Analects of Confucius: Sage King Yao

The sage king Yao (堯) was one of the five legendary rulers who unified ancient China and served as future role models for building a stable and benevolent system of government.

Yao is believed to have lived in the 23rd or 22nd century BCE, and is said to have assumed power at the age of 20 and voluntarily relinquished it to his chosen successor, Shun (舜), to whom he gave his two daughters in marriage, after seventy years on the throne. According to some sources, Yao went on live for a further thirty years following his abdication. Continue reading Historical characters in the Analects of Confucius: Sage King Yao

Leadership lessons from Confucius: too good to be true

too good to be true

子曰:「大哉堯之為君也,巍巍乎,唯天為大,唯堯則之,蕩蕩乎,民無能名焉。巍巍乎,其有成功也,煥乎,其有文章。」
Confucius said: “What a great ruler Yao was! Absolutely majestic! Only heaven is great, and only Yao was able to emulate it. His virtue was so great that the people could find no words to describe it. How stunning were his achievements, and how brilliant the culture was that he created!” (1)

If someone sounds too good to be true, then they probably are. No matter how great the praises heaped on them, there’s always bound be some hidden weakness or dark secret beneath the beautifully constructed façade. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: too good to be true

Leadership lessons from Confucius: selfless devotion to duty?

selfless devotion

子曰:「巍巍乎,舜禹之有天下也,而不與焉。」
Confucius said: “Shun and Yu were so majestic! They reigned over the world but never profited from it.” (1)

There’s always more than one side to every story. Before you decide whether to buy in to the version of it that someone is telling you, take some time to understand their motives in bringing it to your attention. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: selfless devotion to duty?

Leadership lessons from Confucius: relentless demands

relentless demands

子曰:「好勇疾貧,亂也。人而不仁,疾之已甚,亂也。」
Confucius said: “If people with a courageous streak find themselves trapped in poverty, chaos will ensue. If people without a trace of goodness decide their sufferings are too great, chaos will ensue.”

The harder you push people, the likelier they are to push back either by voting with their feet or openly rebelling against the system. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: relentless demands

Analects of Confucius Book 2: by numbers

Analects of Confucius Book 2 by numbers

Book 2 of the Analects is fifty percent longer than Book 1, comprising twenty-four chapters compared to sixteen. Unlike in Book 1, Confucius appears in all the chapters of Book 2. A supporting cast of seven of his followers and four of his contemporaries act as foils for the sage to make his pronouncements on topics as varied as governanceleadership, filial devotion, and learning. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 2: by numbers

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: observing ritual and showing deference

ritual and deference

子曰:「能以禮讓為國乎,何有!不能以禮讓為國,如禮何!」
Confucius said: “If a ruler is able to govern a state by observing ritual and showing deference, what more does he need to do? If a ruler fails to accomplish this, what use is ritual to him?”

A while ago, we signed an agreement to participate in an industry event in the US. This was the first time we had done business with this company, and I was impressed with the efficiency of the rep that we were dealing with. That is until she suggested almost immediately after we’d signed the document that we take part in another event half-way across the world in a location that was not a strategic priority for us.

Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: observing ritual and showing deference

Leadership lessons from Confucius: a two-way street

two-way street

定公問:「君使臣,臣事君,如之何?」孔子對曰:「君使臣以禮,臣事君以忠。」
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

Leadership lessons from Confucius: kindness and respect

kindness and respect

或謂孔子曰:「子奚不為政?」子曰:「書云:『孝乎惟孝,友于兄弟,施於有政。』是亦為政,奚其為為政?」
Someone asked Confucius: “Sir, why don’t you take part in government?” Confucius replied: “In the Book of Documents it says: ‘By being filial to your parents and being kind to your brothers, you’re already contributing to the smooth running of the government.’ Since I’m already doing this, why do I need to take part in government?” (1)

You don’t need to have an official title in order to assume a leadership position in your organization or community. By being kind and considerate towards the people around you, you will soon be able to gain their trust and confidence. The more you show that you appreciate the suggestions and feedback they give you, the more they will appreciate the suggestions and feedback you give them. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: kindness and respect