Tag Archives: Confucius on leadership

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

Lord She asked about governance. Confucius said: “If you make the people near to you happy others will come 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: deeds not words

deeds not words

Confucius said: “If you behave in the correct manner, what difficulties will you meet when in government service? If you are unable to behave in the correct manner, how can you possibly make sure that others behave in the correct manner?”
子曰:「苟正其身矣,於從政乎何有?不能正其身,如正人何?」

Deeds not words. This is the maxim you need to strictly adhere to if you are truly serious about bringing meaningful change to your organization. While your colleagues may be interested in hearing what you have to say about new ethical principles and caring values that are powering your groundbreaking new initiative, they’ll soon lose interest if you fail to exhibit them in your own actions and behavior. Better to not embark such a program at all unless you’re prepared to walk the new walk as well as talk the new talk. That’s the only way to inspire people to embrace meaningful change. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: deeds not words

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: digital transformation

digital transformation

Confucius said: “Even with a true king, it would still take one generation for goodness to prevail.”
子曰:「如有王者,必世而後仁。」

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

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a step-by-step approach

step-by-step approach

Confucius said: “‘When the most able people govern a country for a hundred years, cruelty can be overcome and killing eliminated.’ How true this saying is!”
子曰:「『善人為邦百年,亦可以勝殘去殺矣。』誠哉是言也!」

When it comes to implementing meaningful change, you need to recognize that it’s not going to happen overnight – no matter how hard you may try to will it or enforce it. A step-by-step approach is required. The key is to set an ambitious yet achievable timeframe featuring clear and concrete milestones for measuring progress. Of course there will be times when you find yourself wondering whether you’ll ever be able to accomplish it. On such occasions, don’t give up. Just brush yourself down and get on with it. Rome wasn’t built in a day, after all. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a step-by-step approach

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

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: set the right tone

set the right tone

When Ran Yong was serving as a steward of the Ji Family, he asked about governance. Confucius said: “First appoint your senior officials. Forgive small mistakes. Promote people of talent.” Ran Yong asked: “How do I recognize that someone has talent and deserves to be promoted?” Confucius said: “Promote those you know. Those you don’t know won’t be passed over.”
仲弓為季氏宰,問「政」。子曰:「先有司,赦小過,舉賢才。」曰:「焉知賢才而舉之?」曰:「舉爾所知,爾所不知,人其舍諸!」

As a leader, your role is to set the right tone for how your team operates by selecting the best talent and letting them get on with their work without attempting to micromanage them. Quite apart from demonstrating a lack of confidence in everyone’s ability to carry out their assignments, you’ll go crazy trying to keep up with everything they’re doing in any case! Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: set the right tone

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: lead the people by example

lead the people by example

Zilu asked about governance. Confucius said: “Lead the people by example. Work hard for them.” Zilu asked him for further instruction. Confucius said: “Tirelessly.”
子路問「政」。子曰:「先之,勞之。」請益。曰:「無倦。」

The only way you can expect others to perform miracles is to achieve them yourself. If you’re not leading from the front, they’re not going to be running to keep up with you. If you’re not showing passion for your work, their faces aren’t exactly going to be filled with enthusiasm. You have to prove yourself to them before they’ll feel the need to start proving themselves to you. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: lead the people by example

Notes from the field: Confucius and the universal human condition

universal human condition

I’m hoping that a second long holiday weekend in succession will give me enough time to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s on my Analects of Confucius Book 12 content. You can find all the links to the translations, commentaries, and related articles on the resources page here.

One of the most common reasons given in the West for studying the Analects is for the insights it provides into Chinese culture. That’s OK as far as it goes (though it’s important to remember that it shouldn’t be the only source) but the more I study the text, the more deeply I’m struck by how much light it sheds on the universal human condition. The hypocrisy, greed, thuggery, and other frailties that the sharp-eyed Confucius observes in his contemporaries is every bit as virulent among all of us today. Indeed, it could be argued, these traits are actually accelerating thanks to the proliferation of digital technologies like social media. Continue reading Notes from the field: Confucius and the universal human condition