Tag Archives: Guan Zhong

Leadership lessons from Confucius: shades of grey

shades of grey

Confucius said: “Guan Zhong had his limitations.” Someone objected: “Do you mean that Guan Zhong wasn’t frugal?” Confucius replied: “Guan Zhong had three households, each one staffed by a huge retinue. How could he be called frugal?” “But didn’t he know ritual?” “Even though only the ruler of a state can place a screen to mask the view of his gate, he also had one installed. Even though only the ruler of a state can use a special stand to place his inverted cup on when meeting with another ruler, Guan Zhong had one too. If you say Guan Zhong knew ritual, then who doesn’t know it?”

How to deal with larger-than-life characters who make outsize contributions to your organization? Do you call them out for their excesses or do you turn a blind eye to them? Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: shades of grey

Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Guan Zhong

Guan Zhong (管仲) was the chief minister of the state of Qi (齊) during the seventh century BC. He was born in c. 720 BCE and died in c. 645 BCE, just over a hundred years before Confucius was born. Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Guan Zhong

The end justifies the means?

Zilu said: “When Duke Huan put Prince Jiu to death, Shao Hu took his own life but Guan Zhong chose to keep his. Should we say that Guan Zhong was a man without goodness?” Confucius said: “Duke Huan was able to bring the rulers of all the states together nine times without having to resort to military force because of the power of Guan Zhong. Such was his goodness, such was his goodness!”

Zigong said: “Surely Guan Zhong was not a good person. After Duke Huan had Prince Jiu put to death, he not only chose to live but also served as the Duke’s prime minister.” Confucius said: “By serving as Duke Huan’s prime minister, Guan Zhong imposed his authority over all the states and brought order to the world; the people still reap the benefits of his actions until this day. Without Guan Zhong, we would still be wearing our hair loose and folding our robes on the wrong side. Or would you prefer it if he had drowned himself in a ditch like some wretched husband or wife in their small-minded faithfulness and died with nobody knowing about it?”

Spring and Autumn Period politics was a brutal business. Even the allegedly “straight” Duke Huan had his elder brother Prince Jiu killed in order to solidify his power over the state of Qi. All for the common good of course! Continue reading The end justifies the means?