Tag Archives: Confucius on leadership

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: unfriendly fire

unfriendly fire

Confucius said: “If a good leader instructs the people for seven years they’re ready for just about anything, even taking up arms.”
子曰:「善人教民七年,亦可以即戎矣。」

The larger and stronger your organizations grows, the greater the likelihood that it will draw unfriendly fire – whether it’s from a competitor aiming to defend its market share, customers hoping to cut your pricing, politicians looking to score a few cheap brownie points, or regulators hoping to make their mark. Or perhaps from all quarters at the same time! Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: unfriendly fire

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: confident but never arrogant

confident but never arrogant

Confucius said: “A leader is confident but never arrogant. A petty person is arrogant but never confident.”
子曰:「君子泰而不驕,小人驕而不泰。」

Even though it can often be very difficult to distinguish between confidence and arrogance, the difference between them is huge. Confidence is based on a solid foundation of hard work and strong core values that keep you grounded in reality. Arrogance is based on a sea of shifting sands of boundless hope and deep despair. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: confident but never arrogant

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: easy to work for?

easy to work for

Confucius said: “A leader is easy to work for but hard to please. If you try to please them without following the proper way they won’t be happy, but they’ll only give you tasks you have the ability to carry out. A petty person is hard to work for, but easy to please. If you try to please them, even without following the proper way, they’ll be happy, but they’ll demand that you have the ability to do anything.”
子曰:「君子易事而難說也,說之不以道,不說也,及其使人也,器之。小人難事而易說也,說之雖不以道,說也,及其使人也,求備焉。」

Be honest with yourself. Are you easy to work for? Do you set clear expectations for your staff and pay close attention to their progress or do you throw them in the deep end to see if they sink or swim? Do you respond more positively to staff who suck up to you or those who are willing to challenge you when they think you’re going in the wrong direction? Perhaps amid the endless pile of issues you find yourself having to deal with during your day, you don’t even notice inconsistencies in the way you treat your staff or react to news and events. Better take a step back and reflect on how you actually lead your team before your best people decide it’s time to jump ship. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: easy to work for?

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: not a popularity contest

popularity contest

Zigong asked: “If a person is liked by all the people in their village, what would you think?” Confucius said: “That’s not good enough.” “And if this person is loathed by all the people in the village, what would you think?” “That’s not good enough either. It would be better if the good people in the village liked them and the bad people loathed them.”
子貢問曰:「鄉人皆好之,何如?」子曰:「未可也。」「鄉人皆惡之,何如?」子曰:「未可也。不如鄉人之善者好之,其不善者惡之。」

Leadership isn’t a popularity contest. You can’t please all the people all the time – and neither should you even try to. Instead you should focus on making the right decisions that best serve the interests of the people you’re leading. The “good” ones will instinctively understand what you’re doing and hence “like” or at least respect you, even if they don’t necessarily agree with every particular decision you make. As for the “bad” ones, the more they “loathe” you for the actions you take, the more they demonstrate that you’re on the right track. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: not a popularity contest

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: harmony but not conformity

harmony but not conformity

Confucius said: “A leader strives for harmony but not conformity. A petty person strives for conformity but not harmony.”
子曰:「君子和而不同,小人同而不和。」

It’s never easy to handle differences in opinion between your team members, but your responsibility as a leader is to harmonize the diverse notes of opinion into a single coherent tune that everyone can agree to play like the musicians in an orchestra. Achieving harmony is a lot more difficult in the early stages of the process than imposing conformity, but the long-term results are far more positive and lasting. While harmony provides a framework for promoting the frank and exchange of ideas, conformity kills discussion and creativity. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: harmony but not conformity

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: 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