One of the consequences of Confucius’s faithfulness to the past was that he always saw himself as a high-level minister in the mold of his hero the Duke of Zhou and never aspired to become a ruler of a state himself.
This meant that Confucius had to devote himself to the thankless tasking of finding an appropriate ruler to work for who would be willing to listen to his advice and allow him to implement the government and social reforms that he recommended. Continue reading Analects Book 14: Confucius’s failure to achieve his lifelong dream
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?’”
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
Duke Ai (魯哀公) was the hereditary ruler of the state of Lu, but had little actual power because it was concentrated in the hands of the Three Families, the Jisun (季孫), Mengsun (孟孙), and Shusun (叔孫).
During the course of his reign (ca. 494 to ca. 467 BCE), the duke attempted to restore the primacy of his family, but was forced to flee from Lu towards the end of it. Soon after arriving in the state of Yue (越), he went back to Lu but never returned to the court and lived out his finals days at the home of a family called Shan (山). No wonder his posthumous name literally means Duke Sadness! Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Duke Ai of Lu
Duke Ding (魯定公) was the predecessor of Duke Ai (哀公) as the ruler of Lu, and reigned from around 509 to 495 BCE. Although responsible for elevating Confucius to his highest official position as Minister of Justice (大司寇) of Lu, the duke was ultimately at least indirectly responsible for Confucius’s decision to go into exile because of his inability to control the Three Families, who were the de facto rulers of the state. Indeed, Duke Ding was said to be so weak that he was the kind of ruler who “held the blade of the sword and offered the handle to his enemies.” Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Duke Ding of Lu
A border official at the town of Yi requested a meeting with Confucius. He said: “Whenever a distinguished man comes to these parts, I never fail to meet him.” The follower arranged for him to meet Confucius. After coming out of it the official said: “Sirs, why worry about his dismissal? The world has been without the way for a long while. Heaven is going to use your master like a wooden bell clapper.”
How to deal with a career-threatening setback? Stay and fight your corner or flee the scene for pastures new? Confucius opted for the latter course in 497 BCE ostensibly out of outrage at his ruler Duke Ding cavorting with a troupe of dancing girls sent by the ruler of the state of Qi but more likely because of the failure of his policies to rein in the power of the Three Families by razing the walls that surrounded their cities. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: like a wooden bell clapper
Duke Ai asked which wood should be used for the altar pole of the land god. Zai Yu replied: “The Xia used pine; the Yin used cypress; the Zhou used chestnut. It’s said that they wanted it to make people tremble with fear.” When Confucius heard of this, he said: “What’s done is done; no need to dredge up the past; let bygones be bygones.” (1) (2)
When someone does something dumb like Zai Yu here, it’s best to move on and forget that it ever happened. What’s done is done. There’s no point in upsetting yourself by bringing up the past. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: what’s done is done
Duke Ding asked: “How should a lord treat his ministers? How should ministers serve their lord?” Confucius replied: “A lord should treat his ministers in accordance with ritual; ministers should serve their lord with loyalty.” (1) (2)
Leadership is a two-way street. Treat your staff as you wish to be treated. Be polite and listen to what they have to say and they will be polite and listen to what you have to say. Remain calm and collected during a crisis and they will remain calm and collected. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: a two-way street