A boy from the village of Que came bearing a message. Someone asked about him, saying: “Is he likely to improve himself?” Confucius said: “I have noticed that he seats himself among others and walks alongside people older than himself. He is not looking to improve himself; he wants to grow up too fast.”
It takes time and care to build up an effective personal network. Hanging out at parties or making noise on social media might be enough to trigger some attention from the makers and shakers, but unless you prove yourself to be sincere and to have something of value to offer they’ll soon lose their interest in you. Better to focus your time on building something great rather than flitting around like a social butterfly.
Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: like a social butterfly
Yuan Rang sat with his legs stretched out waiting for Confucius. Confucius said: “A person who is disrespectful to their elders when they’re young, achieves nothing of note when they grow up, and lacks the grace to die when they’re old is nothing but a thief.” He then gave him a rap on the shin with his staff.
The more harshly you criticize someone young for their lack of diligence and respect, the more likely they are to defy you. Ominous warnings about their impending doom aren’t going to deter them either. Why should they care what you think? You probably represent everything they’re against.
Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a rap on the shin
Confucius said: “When their rulers love ritual, the common people are easy to manage.”
The rot starts at the top. If you don’t respect the rules that you set for your team, you have no right to expect your staff to follow them either. No amount of self-righteous blather and bluster will be sufficient to persuade them that they should place their confidence and trust in you. Just as you pretend to lead, they’ll pretend to work. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: easy to manage
Zizhang said: “In the Book of Documents it is written: ‘When Gaozong was mourning his father, he did not speak for three years.’ What does this mean?” Confucius said: “This did not apply only to Gaozong; all the ancients did the same. When a king died, all the officials gathered together and took their orders from the chief minister for three years.”
Take some time away to pause and reflect. The world won’t come to an end while you’re not there. Your office will be functioning normally when you return. Your staff might even be pleased to see you come back from it refreshed and full of life. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: take some time away
Chen Chengzi assassinated Duke Jian of Qi. Confucius took a bath and went to court, where he told Duke Ai of Lu: “Chen Heng murdered his ruler. Please punish him.” The Duke said: “Report this to the three lords.” Confucius said: “As a former official myself, I had no choice but to make this report. Yet my lord has only said, ‘Report this to the three lords.’” He went and made his report to the three lords. They refused to intervene. Confucius said: “As a former official myself, I had no choice but to make this report.”
Think very carefully before you decide to poke your nose in other people’s business. Of course, there’s always a chance that they may listen to you, but it’s much more likely that it will turn out to be an exercise in futility. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: an exercise in futility
Fan Chi asked to learn about cultivating grain. Confucius said: “You’d be better off asking an old farmer.” Fan Chi asked to learn about raising vegetables. Confucius said: “You’d be better off asking an old gardener.” After Fan Chi had left, Confucius said: “What a petty person! When a ruler loves ritual, the people don’t dare to be disrespectful. When a ruler loves rightness, the people don’t dare to be disobedient. When a ruler loves trustworthiness, the people don’t dare to be deceitful. If such a ruler existed, people would flock to them from everywhere with their children strapped to their backs. What need would there be to learn about farming?”
Your time and talent are precious. Focus them on where you’ll achieve the greatest impact. If you manage a team concentrate on making sure that you have the right people, culture, and processes in place to make sure it operates successfully. Leave the technical questions for the appropriate experts. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: achieving the greatest impact
There’s no discernible central theme to Book 8 of the Analects of Confucius, but it still contains plenty of interesting tidbits to chew on. Except for the bland and overcooked servings of the follower Zengzi early on in the book, that is. Why spend time trying to digest the tasteless imitations of the sous-chef when you can dine on the rich cuisine of the master chef instead?
Myths and counter-myths
The most enjoyable part of reading the book is digging through the myths and counter-myths surrounding the legendary sage kings Yao, Shun, and Yu in the final five chapters. Were these three men truly the paragons of leaderly virtue that Confucius praises to the skies? Did Yao and Shun really voluntarily cede power to their hand-picked successor rather than keep it in the family? Or were they summarily kicked off the throne when they became too old and weak to maintain their grip on it and bundled off into exile or prison? Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 8 overview: from sage kings to ritual and music
The greatest love that Confucius preferred to pursue rather than wealth was music (see 7.11). He is said to have been a fairly decent musician himself, and in 7.13 is described as being so enraptured by a performance of Shao music that he saw during a visit to the state of Qi that he “didn’t know the taste of meat” for three months.
Confucius didn’t just love music for its aesthetic beauty. He also saw it as the ultimate embodiment of cultural sophistication and civilization with its power to elevate people’s senses and thoughts to ever greater levels of harmony with each other and their surrounding environment. When combined with ritual, it exemplified the values that everyone could achieve if they followed the way he laid out for them. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 7: Confucius’s love of music
Read this new English translation of the Analects of Confucius Book 11 to learn more about the teachings of China’s most famous philosopher.
Confucius said: “Those who learn ritual and music before taking up an official position are the common people; those who learn ritual and music after taking up an official position are the nobility. If I were to employ them, I would employ the former.”
Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 11: new English translation
顏淵死，顏路請子之車以為之 。子曰：「才不才，亦各言其子也。鯉也死，有棺而無 ；吾不徒行，以為之 ，以吾從大夫之後，不可徒行也。」
When Yan Hui died, his father Yan Lu asked Confucius if he could sell his carriage so that he could pay for an outer coffin for his son. Confucius said: “Talented or not, a son is a son. When my son Li died, he was buried in an inner coffin but there was no outer coffin. I wouldn’t go on foot in order to give him one because it wasn’t proper for me as a former minister to go on foot.” (1) (2) (3)
If you fail to follow the rules and conventions of your organization, how can you expect others to observe them? If you allow yourself some wriggling room by treating a sensitive or contentious case as an exception, why can’t everyone else do the same? Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: a special case?