Tag Archives: Confucius on learning

Leadership lessons from Confucius: rose-tinted glasses

rose-tinted glasses

季康子問:「弟子孰為好學?」孔子對曰:「有顏回者好學,不幸短命死矣!今也則亡。」(1)
Ji Kangzi asked: “Which of your followers love learning?” Confucius replied: “There was Yan Hui who loved learning. Sadly, his life was cut short and he died. Now there’s nobody.” (1)

There’s nothing wrong with indulging in the occasional bout of nostalgia. Just be mindful that the good old days were never quite as wonderful as you imagine them to have been. In most instances they weren’t by any measurable criterion better either – just different. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: rose-tinted glasses

Leadership lessons from Confucius: an interactive process

interactive process

子曰:「回也,非助我者也!於吾言,無所不說。」
Confucius said: “Yan Hui is no help to me at all: he delights in everything I say.” (1)

Teaching is an interactive process. How do you know if your students are truly imbibing the great wisdom you are imparting to them if they just sit quietly in front of you without asking any questions? You may think that this shows they’re taking in everything you have to say, but it’s much more likely that they are either so bored that they don’t think it’s worth interrupting you with a question or so overwhelmed that they don’t want to appear dumber than everyone else by asking for clarification of a point that they don’t understand. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: an interactive process

Leadership lessons from Confucius: the same path?

same path

子曰:「可與共學,未可與適道;可與適道,未可與立;可與立,未可與權。
Confucius said: “Those who learn together won’t necessarily take the same path; those who take the same path won’t necessarily stand together; those who stand together won’t necessarily exercise their judgment in the same manner.”

Education is about providing people with the intellectual tools they need to make good decisions in a complex and dynamic world. It’s not about attempting to ensure that everyone conforms to a certain set of pre-approved values. Even if you attempt to force everybody to sing from the same hymn book, their opinions will naturally diverge based on their own experiences of the world. There is no universal truth that applies to everything. There is no single right answer for resolving every problem. Life is far too nuanced and complex for that. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: the same path?

Leadership lessons from Confucius: grow and blossom

grow and blossom

子曰:「苗而不秀者,有矣夫!秀而不實者,有矣夫!」
Confucius said: “There are some plants that grow but never blossom; there are others that blossom but never bear fruit.”

The odds of building a successful startup are extremely low. According to various estimates only around one in ten make it. That doesn’t mean you should give up on your dream of entrepreneurial success, but that you should be well aware of the risks before you embark on your venture and make sure that you’re prepared for the challenges ahead. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: grow and blossom

Leadership lessons from Confucius: presentation tips

presentation tips

子曰:「語之而不惰者,其回也與?」
Confucius said: “If anyone could listen to me without growing weary, who else could it be than Yan Hui?” (1)

It takes more than a stunning PowerPoint deck and a compelling story to maintain people’s attention when they are just a tap on their smartphone screen away from the temptations of social media and email. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: presentation tips

Leadership lessons from Confucius: perseverance and perspiration

perseverance and perspiration

子曰:「譬如為山,未成一簣,止,吾止也!譬如平地,雖覆一簣,進,吾往也!」
Confucius said: “Let’s take piling up earth to build a mound as an example: even if I stop when I only need to pile on one last basket of earth, I have still stopped. Let’s take filling a hole in the ground as another example: if I have emptied the first basket of earth, I only need to keep on emptying more in order to continue to make progress.”

It doesn’t matter how much progress you’ve already made if you give up before achieving your goal. The responsibility for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory rests on your shoulders alone. You have no right or reason to blame anyone else. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: perseverance and perspiration

Leadership lessons from Confucius: a man from Daxiang

man from daxiang

達巷黨人曰,「大哉孔子,博學而無所成名。」子聞之,謂門弟子曰,「吾何執?執御乎,執射乎?吾執御矣。」(1)
A man from Daxiang said: “What a great man Confucius is! Despite his vast learning, he still hasn’t managed to make a name for himself in any particular field.” When Confucius heard of this, he said to his followers: “Which skill should I master? Should I master charioteering? Should I master archery? I think I’ll master charioteering.”

Who makes the best leaders? Generalists or specialists? There are strong arguments on both sides. Deep expertise and experience in a single domain such as finance or engineering shouldn’t necessarily disqualify you from taking on a senior management position in an organization, but it can lead to blinkered thinking unless you round yourself out with some time in sales, business development, or operations roles. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: a man from Daxiang

Leadership lessons from Confucius: an indomitable spirit

indomitable spirit

子曰:「學如不及,猶恐失之。」
Confucius said: “Learn as if you’ll never be able to catch up with everything you need to know and as if you’re afraid you’ll lose everything that you’ve already gained.”

There’s no substitute for hard work in the pursuit of excellence. It isn’t important how brilliant you think your ideas are. The only way you’ll succeed in implementing them is by putting your nose to the grindstone. Inspiration is useless without perspiration. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: an indomitable spirit

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: it’s your life

it's your life

子曰:「三年學,不至於穀,不易得也。」
Confucius said: “Someone willing to study for three years without taking up an official position is hard to find.”

Not everyone has the privilege of being able to spend three or four years at college. If you’re lucky enough to attend one, make the most of your time there. It’s one of the rare occasions in your life that you’ll have the opportunity to explore your true interests before you have to enter the world of work. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: it’s your life