Tag Archives: effortless action

Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Gongming Jia

Gongming Jia (公明賈) was a high-ranking official of Wei, who presumably also worked as a retainer for Gongshu Wenzi, a widely respected minister of the state.

Given the fulsome praise that he heaps on his master when speaking to Confucius in 14.13, Gongming Jia was clearly a great admirer of Gongshu and probably a close friend as well. The clarity of the description he gives of his master’s ability to respond appropriately to each situation he encounters with effortless action (無為/wúwéi) marks him out as a highly sophisticated individual as well. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Gongming Jia

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: getting into the zone

in the zone

Confucius asked Gongming Jia about Gongshu Wenzi: “Is it true that your master never spoke, laughed, nor took anything?” Gongming Jia replied: “Whoever told you this exaggerated. My master spoke, but only at the right time, and so no one ever thought he spoke too much; he laughed, but only when he was happy, and so no one ever thought that he laughed too much; he took things, but only when it was right, and so no one ever thought that he took too much.” Confucius said: “How commendable! Assuming of course it is true.”
子問「公叔文子」於公明賈,曰:「信乎?夫子不言不笑不取乎?」公明賈對曰:「以告者過也!夫子時然後言,人不厭其言;樂然後笑,人不厭其笑;義然後取,人不厭其取。」子曰:「其然!豈其然乎?」

How to get yourself into the zone when everything you say, do, and touch turns to gold? Even the greatest athletes and artists in the world only manage to achieve a state of peak performance on the rarest of occasions. For most of the time, they are busy fine-tuning their skills, bodies, and minds in preparation for that magical moment when they hit the perfect home run or create their masterpiece. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: getting into the zone

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

Notes from the field: a regular exercise regime

regular exercise regime

We’ve been very lucky that we’ve had very few restrictions to our daily lives in Taiwan as a result of Covid19, apart from the very minor inconvenience of having to wear masks on public transport. The biggest change for me has been the lack of international travel. I can’t remember the last time I’ve spent more than four months in one place without having to step on a plane.

Not that I’m complaining about that. The reverse in fact. It feels good to have much greater control of my schedule rather than having it governed by the demands of the next flight. So much of my time and energy was spent on traveling or preparing for trips that I put a lot of personal and business issues on the backburner. The past few months in Taiwan have given me the chance to address them. Continue reading Notes from the field: a regular exercise regime

Leadership lessons from Confucius: don’t break the chain

don't break the chain

子曰:「回也,其心三月不違仁,其餘則日月至焉而已矣。」
Confucius said: “Ah! Yan Hui could focus his mind solely on goodness for three months, whereas others can manage only a day or a month.”

Don’t break the chain. That’s the wise advice the comedian Jerry Seinfeld gives about maintaining focus. No matter whether you’re planning to write a book or lose weight, you need to make sure that you work on it every day. Miss a day or two because you’re too tired or busy, and you risk going back to square one or coming to a complete halt. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: don’t break the chain

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a seat facing south

a seat facing south

子曰:「雍也可使南面。」
Confucius said: “Ran Yong could take a seat facing south.” (1)

How would you describe your leadership style? Would you say it is hands-off because you empower your staff to carry out their jobs with a minimum of interference? Or would you say it is hands-on because you insist on carefully reviewing your staff’s work and making sure they follow strict procedures. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a seat facing south

Leadership lessons from Confucius: achieving a state of flow

flow

子曰:「君子無所爭,必也射乎!揖讓而升,下而飲。其爭也君子。」
Confucius said: “A leader does not engage in competition. But if you can’t avoid it, you should practice archery. You bow and exchange courtesies with your opponent before entering the range and enjoy drinks with him after leaving it. Even when engaged in competition, you remain a leader.” (1)

Like archery, leadership involves achieving such a state of flow that every action you take comes so naturally that you don’t even have to think about it. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: achieving a state of flow

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: unintended consequences

Beijing Confucius Temple: unintended consequences

子曰:「道之以政,齊之以刑,民免而無恥;道之以德,齊之以禮,有恥且格。」
Confucius said: “If you lead through laws and regulations and maintain order through punishments, people will avoid them but won’t develop a sense of shame. If you lead through virtue and keep them in line with ritual, they will develop a sense of shame and unite behind you.”

Whenever government or business leaders are faced with an ethical crisis, their instinctive response is to pass a raft of new legislation, regulations, rules, and codes of conduct to “solve” it. While in the short term this approach may give the illusion that they are “doing something” (not to mention generating some handy headlines), in the long term it has the highly corrosive effect of widening the gap between the elite and the people and increasing the level of state interference into individuals’ lives. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: unintended consequences

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: like the Pole Star

moral power

子曰:「為政以德,譬如北辰,居其所而眾星共之。」
Confucius said: “Governing by the power of virtue can be compared to the Pole Star, which remains fixed in place while all the other stars orbit respectfully around it.”

As a leader, your most important task is to set a shining example to the people around you through your virtue (德/dé), a term which can be extended to mean ethical or moral power. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: like the Pole Star