Tag Archives: governance

Leadership lessons from Confucius: do the right thing

do the right thing

Ji Kangzi asked Confucius about governance. Confucius replied: “To govern effectively is to do the right thing. If you do the right thing who would dare not to do it?”

The rot starts at the top. If you fail to do the right thing, how can you expect others to? If you proclaim a commitment to diversity and then give your best buddy a major promotion because he is “uniquely qualified” for the position, how can you expect everyone else to follow the new policy? Even if people don’t complain openly about your hypocrisy, they’ll find equally creative ways to pretend that they’re doing the right thing as you do. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: do the right thing

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: know your role

know your role

Duke Jing of Qi asked Confucius about governance. Confucius replied: “Let lords be lords; ministers be ministers; fathers be fathers; and sons be sons.” The duke said: “Excellent! If lords are not lords, ministers are not ministers, fathers are not fathers, and sons are not sons, would I be able to eat even if I had food?”

It’s not enough simply to know your role. You also have to live up to the professional and ethical responsibilities that it encompasses. As a CEO, for example, your role involves much more than hitting the right financial numbers; building up a strong corporate culture that promotes honesty and openness is equally, if not more, important. That means, of course, becoming a powerful role model who sets the right example for everyone to follow through your words and actions. While you may not realize it at first, failure to do that will send your organization sliding down a slippery slope that will be difficult to escape from. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: know your role

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: the trust of the people

the trust of the people

Zigong asked about governance. Confucius said: “Enough food, enough weapons, and the trust of the people.” Zigong said: “If you had to go without one of these three, which one would you give up?” Confucius replied: “Weapons.” Zigong asked: “If you had to go without one of the remaining two, which one would you give up?” Confucius replied: “Food. From ancient times, death has been the fate of everyone. But without the trust of the people, the government cannot stand.”

It doesn’t matter how great the pay and office facilities are: people aren’t going to give their best if they don’t have any trust in you as a leader. There’s no reason why they should fully commit themselves to you if you don’t wholeheartedly commit yourself to them.
Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: the trust of the people

Analects of Confucius Book 2: Confucius on governance


Confucius lived during turbulent times of great political and social instability, in which the various feudal states that comprised the decaying Zhou dynasty were vying with each other for supremacy and the aristocracies within each state were fighting with the hereditary ruling families to gain more influence and power. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 2: Confucius on governance

Analects of Confucius Book 1: Confucius on governance


Even though Confucius is best known today as a teacher and philosopher, he could just as easily be described as a politician and policy wonk. Through his teachings his aim was to unite the weak and divided states that were vying for supremacy during his lifetime into a single prosperous country that was governed according to the same principles and practices that his hero, the Duke of Zhou, had implemented when laying the foundations for the growth of the Zhou dynasty five hundred years before his birth. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 1: Confucius on governance

The five virtues and four vices

Zizhang asked Confucius: “What qualities must you have in order to be fit to take part in government?” Confucius said: “If you cultivate the five virtues and cast out the four vices you are fit to govern.”

Zizhang asked: “What are the five virtues?” Confucius said: “A leader is generous without having to spend anything; he inspires people to work hard without complaining; he is ambitious without being greedy; he is confident without being arrogant; he is imposing without being frightening.”

Zizhang said: “How can you be ‘generous without having to spend anything’?” Confucius said: “If you let the people take advantage of what is beneficial for them, aren’t you being generous without having to spend anything? If you assign the people to work on tasks that are reasonable, who will complain? If your ambition is to be good and you accomplish it, how can you be greedy? If a leader treats everyone equally no matter whether they are many or few or humble or great, he is confident without being arrogant. If a leader wears his robe and cap correctly, his gaze is straight, and he carries himself with a dignified air that inspires the people’s awe, he is imposing but not frightening.”

Zizhang said: “What are the four vices?” Confucius said: “If you execute people without attempting to reform them you are being cruel; if you carry out an inspection of a public works project without giving a prior warning you are being tyrannical; if you expect the immediate completion of a project after being slow to approve it, you are acting like a thief; if you are tight-fisted in paying people what is rightfully theirs, you are being bureaucratic.”

This passage features another reprise of a common theme of Confucius’s teachings: namely, that people in power have a responsibility to treat the common people in the same way that they would expect to be treated. Continue reading The five virtues and four vices

Scant consolation

Confucius said: “It is five generations since control of appointments fell out of the hands of the ducal house. It is four generations since government fell into the hands of the grand families. For this reason, the descendants of the three houses of Huan families will fall into obscurity.”

Having vividly described the risk of a country collapsing when “the Way does not prevail” in Chapter II of Book 16, Confucius goes on to analyze how this applies to his home state of Lu in Chapter III. Continue reading Scant consolation

When the Way prevails in the world

When the emperor sits on his throne radiating virtue, harmony is ensured at all levels of the social hierarchy. However, when the emperor fails in his duty, the feudal lords, grand families, and junior officials scramble for influence and power. Once they gain control, it’s only a matter of time before the state collapses and chaos ensues. Continue reading When the Way prevails in the world

Best of breed

When Yan Hui asked how to govern a state, Confucius said: “Observe the calendar of the Xia Dynasty; ride in the chariot of Yin Dynasty; wear the ceremonial cap of the Zhou Dynasty. As for music, follow the Coronation Hymn of Shun and the Victory Hymn of Wu. Ban the music of Zheng. Stay away from smooth talkers. The music of Zheng corrupts. Smooth talkers are dangerous.”

Far from advising his favorite disciple Yan Hui to copy slavishly from the past, Confucius is telling him to adopt only the finest traditions and practices from previous dynasties. Continue reading Best of breed