Tag Archives: Confucius on leadership

Leadership lessons from Confucius: the nine Yi tribes

nine yi tribes

子欲居九夷。或曰:「陋,如之何?」子曰:「君子居之,何陋之有!」
Confucius wanted to live among the nine Yi tribes. Someone said: “It’s wild there. How would you cope?” Confucius replied: “How could it be wild once a leader goes to live there?”

You don’t have to agree with everything that someone says to admire them. Indeed, if you do take their every word as gospel, you might want to look more closely at your own capacity for critical thinking. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: the nine Yi tribes

Leadership lessons from Confucius: real world experience

real world experience

大宰問於子貢曰:「夫子聖者與!何其多能也?」子貢曰:「固天縱之將聖,又多能也。」子聞之曰:「大宰知我乎?吾少也賤,故多能鄙事。君子多乎哉?不多也!」
The Grand Steward asked Zigong: “Your master’s a true sage, isn’t he? He’s skilled in so many things.” Zigong replied: “Heaven indeed made him a sage, but he also happens to have many different skills.” When he heard of this, Confucius said: “What does the Grand Steward know about me? In my youth I was poor, so I had to learn a number of menial skills. Does a leader usually have so many different skills? I don’t think so.”

There’s no better preparation for adult life than a part-time or temporary job waiting tables, flipping burgers, valeting cars, doing construction, or working on a production line. You can learn far more in few months from that about how the world really works than studying two years for an MBA in a fancy college. It’s only though practical experience that you can understand the challenges of working with other people from diverse backgrounds, dealing with prickly customers, and meeting seemingly impossible deadlines. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: real world experience

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: a covetous glance

covetous glance

子曰:「不在其位,不謀其政。」
Confucius said: “Don’t concern yourself with the affairs of an office that you don’t hold.”

Concentrate on your own job rather than casting a covetous glance at your boss’s chair. Even though you’re performing your responsibilities well, there are always plenty of ways in which you can improve and multiple gaps in your knowledge and experience that you can fill. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a covetous glance

Leadership lessons from Confucius: an unwinnable battle

unwinnable battle

子曰:「篤信好學,守死善道。危邦不人,亂邦不居,天下有道則見,無道則隱。邦有道,貧且賤焉,恥也,邦無道,富且貴焉,恥也。」
Confucius said: “Commit yourself sincerely to the love of learning. Defend the great way with your life. Do not enter an unstable state or live in a country that is in chaos. Take office when the way prevails in the world; withdraw from office when it disappears. In a state that has adopted the way, be ashamed if you remain poor and obscure; in a state that has lost the way, be ashamed if you become rich and achieve high rank.”

There’s no point in working with a leader without a clear ethical sense. No matter how honorably you act, you will inevitably get dragged into the morass and emerge with a sullied reputation or perhaps even worse. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: an unwinnable battle

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

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: the invisible line

invisible line

子曰:「恭而無禮則勞,慎而無禮則葸,勇而無禮則亂,直而無禮則絞。君子篤於親,則民興於仁。故舊不遺,則民不偷。」
Confucius said: “Reverence unregulated by ritual descends into indifference; cautiousness unregulated by ritual descends into timidity; boldness unregulated by ritual descends into disorder; frankness unregulated by ritual descends into hurtfulness. If a leader is devoted to their family, the people are inclined towards goodness; if a leader doesn’t forget about their old friends, the people will not shirk their obligations to others.”

Nobody’s an island. If you focus solely on improving your own performance without any form of external mediation, the law of unintended consequences will inevitably kick in and you’ll find the strengths you’ve worked so hard to hone becoming weaknesses. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: the invisible line

Leadership lessons from Confucius: calm and at ease

calm and at ease

子曰:「君子坦蕩蕩,小人長戚戚。」
Confucius said: “A leader is calm and at ease; a petty person is anxious and on edge.”

Leadership is about being comfortable with yourself and confident in your ability to handle whatever comes flying at you in this rapidly changing world. At its base is a strong ethical foundation that enables you to lead a productive personal and family life and contribute to your community and society at large. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: calm and at ease

Leadership lessons from Confucius: room for improvement

room for improvement

子曰:「文,莫吾猶人也。躬行君子,則吾未之有得。」
Confucius said: “Although my commitment is as strong as anyone’s when it comes to cultural knowledge and refinement, I haven’t yet hit the target of becoming a true leader in how I conduct myself.”

No matter how accomplished and successful you are, there’s always room for improvement. That doesn’t mean that you should constantly beat yourself up for your inevitable failings, but that that you should be able to reflect calmly on them and take concrete steps to address them in the future. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: room for improvement