Tag Archives: Confucius on governance

Analects Book 14: Confucius on how government officials should act

One of the key themes of Analects Book 14 is how government officials should act. Confucius gets the ball rolling in 14.1 when he defines shamefulness as “caring only about your salary no matter whether good or bad government prevails in the state” to his follower Yuan Xian.

In 14.2, he emphasizes the point that officials should care about more than securing a cozy sinecure by commenting that “a scholar-official who cherishes their material comfort isn’t worthy of the name.” They should devote themselves to fulfilling their responsibilities towards their ruler and the common people without concern for personal enrichment or career advancement. Continue reading Analects Book 14: Confucius on how government officials should act

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a strong team

a strong team

Confucius said: “Whenever a government edict needed to be written, Bi Chen prepared the first draft, Shi Shu reviewed and revised it, Ziyu, the head of protocol, edited it, and Zichan of Dongli gave it a final polish.”
子曰:「為命:裨諶草創之,世叔討論之,行人子羽修飾之,東里子產潤色之。」

Be sure to build a strong team around you: one that is diverse and complementary in terms of personalities, perspectives, and skill sets. Without a strong team, you will struggle to grow and reach your full potential. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a strong team

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: demanding tasks

demanding tasks

Confucius said: “Can you truly care for someone if you’re not demanding towards them? Can you be truly loyal to someone if you refrain from admonishing them?”
子曰:「愛之,能勿勞乎?忠焉,能勿誨乎?」

Life can be tough at times. You’re not doing anyone any favors by shielding them from this reality. Give them demanding tasks to work on so that they have the opportunity to develop their skills and grow. Don’t be afraid of criticizing them when it’s necessary. Just make sure that your comments are constructive. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: demanding tasks

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a true scholar-official

scholar-official

Zigong asked: “What qualities must you possess to be called a true scholar-official?” Confucius said: “A person who maintains a sense of humility and can be sent on a mission to the four corners of the earth without bringing disgrace to their ruler can be called a true scholar-official.” “May I ask what type of person ranks one step below that?” “A person who is praised by their relatives for their filial devotion and who is known by the people of their neighborhood for being respectful towards their elders.” “May I ask what type of person ranks one step below that?” “A person whose word can be trusted and who completes whatever task they undertake. In their stubborn determination, they may resemble a petty person, but they could still probably qualify as a scholar-official of a lower rank.” “How would you rate the people currently involved in public affairs?” “Sadly, these are people you measure by a bucket or scoop. They’re not even worth mentioning.”
子貢問曰:「何如斯可謂之士矣?」子曰:「行己有恥,使於四方,不辱君命,可謂士矣。」曰:「敢問其次?」曰:「宗族稱孝焉,鄉黨稱弟焉。」曰:「敢問其次?」曰:「言必信,行必果;硜硜然,小人哉!抑亦可以為次矣。」曰:「今之從政者何如?」子曰:「噫!斗筲之人,何足算也!」

How many hard-working and trustworthy people of a “lower rank” do you have in your organization with the potential to take on a leadership role? What steps are you taking to provide them with the experience and training they need to show what they’re really made of? As technologies like AI proliferate, you are going to need far more people who can act like a “true scholar-official” than ever before. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a true scholar-official

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: don’t try to rush things

don't try to rush things

When Zixia was governor of Jufu he asked about governance. Confucius said: “Don’t try to rush things. Ignore matters of minor advantage. If you try to rush things, you won’t achieve success. If you pursue matters of minor advantage, you won’t succeed in major affairs.”
子夏為莒父宰問政。子曰:「無欲速,無見小利。欲速則不達,見小利則大事不成。」

Don’t try to rush things. That’s not just the easiest way to make silly mistakes. It also increases the risk that you’ll miss what’s really important. Take some time to analyze the situation and talk to everyone involved. Look behind the numbers and reams of emails and reports to find out what’s really going on. By rushing in to show you’re in charge, you’ll more likely make things worse than better. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: don’t try to rush things

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: beating down the doors

beating down the doors

The Lord of She asked about governance. Confucius said: “If you make the people near to you happy, others will come to you from afar.”
葉公問政。子曰:「近者說,遠者來。」

If you make your organization an attractive place to work for, you won’t have to pursue aggressive recruitment strategies to attract the right people. They’ll be beating down the doors to join you. Strict enforcement of petty regulations to impose greater discipline will just as easily drive them away again by causing resentment and resistance. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: beating down the doors

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: one single saying

one single saying

Duke Ding asked: “Is there one single saying that can ensure the prosperity of a state?” Confucius replied: “No single saying could have such an effect. There is a saying, however: ‘It’s difficult to be a ruler; it isn’t easy to be a minister.’ A saying that could make the ruler understand the difficulty of his task would come close to ensuring the prosperity of the state.” “Is there one single saying that can ruin a state?” Confucius replied: “No single saying could have such an effect. There is a saying, however: ‘There’s nothing I love more about being a ruler than never having to be contradicted.’ If you’re right and nobody contradicts you, that’s great; but if you’re wrong and nobody contradicts you, wouldn’t this come close to being a case of ‘one single saying that can ruin a state?’”
定公問:「一言而可以興邦,有諸?」孔子對曰:「言不可以若是其幾也!人之言曰:『為君難,為臣不易。』如知為君之難也,不幾乎一言而興邦乎?」曰:「一言而喪邦,有諸?」孔子對曰:「言不可以若是其幾也!人之言曰:『予無樂乎為君,唯其言而莫予違也。』如其善而莫之違也,不亦善乎?如不善而莫之違也,不幾乎一言而喪邦乎?」

You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room just because you’re in charge. Your role is to bring the best minds together and listen to what they have to tell you. It’s only by hearing different perspectives on issues from people who aren’t afraid to challenge your thinking that you’ll be able to come to the best decision. Creating an open and trusting environment in which everyone feels comfortable about sharing their expertise and opinions is vital for ensuring the continued prosperity of your organization and preventing it from falling into ruin. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: one single saying

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: continuous learning

continuous learning

Confucius traveled to Wei, with Ran Qiu driving his carriage. Confucius said: “There are so many people!” Ran Qiu said: “When there are so many people, what should be done next?” “Enrich them.” “When they are rich, what should be done next?” “Educate them.”
子適衛,冉有僕。子曰:「庶矣哉!」冉有曰:「既庶矣,又何加焉?」曰:「富之。」曰:「既富矣,又何加焉?」曰:「教之。」

Recruiting the right talent is just the first step in building a vibrant organization. Once you have everyone onboard, the next step is to make sure that they have the opportunity to constantly upgrade their capabilities through continuous learning. Although rich online resources in diverse multimedia formats have made access to knowledge more convenient than ever before, building a culture that actively encourages and rewards continuous learning is essential if everyone in the organization is to keep on growing. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: continuous learning

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: ready for the challenge?

ready for the challenge

Confucius said: “In their form of government, the states of Lu and Wei are like older and younger brothers.”
子曰:「魯衛之政,兄弟也。」

The older and larger an organization gets, the more difficult it is for leaders maintain its vitality and sense of purpose. Internal politics and out-of-date processes and procedures can all too easily slow it down and lead to missed opportunities and a bureaucratic, perhaps even toxic, culture. With the acceleration of new technologies like AI, it is becoming even more critical for the leadership to take immediate steps not just to reverse the slide but to transform their organization so that it can take full advantage of the huge new opportunities that are emerging. Take a deep look inside and ask yourself if you and your organization are ready for the challenge. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: ready for the challenge?

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: the correct manner

correct manner

Confucius said: “If a leader behaves in the correct manner everything will operate smoothly even if they don’t issue orders. If a leader doesn’t behave in the correct manner, nobody will listen even if they do issue orders.”
子曰:「其身正,不令而行;其身不正,雖令不從。」

If you’re not taking the right path, how can you expect others to follow you along it? If you don’t conduct yourself in the correct manner, how can you expect others to act in the right way? As so many autocrats have learned to their cost during the course of history, no amount of force is strong enough to compel people to blindly follow you. Even if repression works in the short term, it will ultimately result in your downfall – not to mention untold harm to everyone who has suffered from your hubris. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: the correct manner