When Ran Qiu returned from court, Confucius said: “What kept you so long?” Ran Qiu replied: “Government affairs.” Confucius said: “Surely you mean private affairs. If it had been government affairs I would have heard about them, even though I’m not in office.”
As technology blurs the boundaries between functions, disciplines, and businesses, how are you going to manage the conflicts of interest that will inevitably arise from this? What if a supplier decides to move into a market that you’re already active in based in part on the insights it’s gleaned from working with you? Or if an online distributor leverages the sales data it’s capturing to develop a product that competes directly with yours under its own brand? This is a murky new world that technology is moving us into with levels of ethical complexity that have never been seen before. Make sure you’re ready for it. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: conflicts of interest
In the first three chapters of Book 12 of the Analects, Confucius shows himself to be highly adept at defining the strengths and weaknesses of his followers Yan Hui, Ran Yong, and Sima Niu, and laying out the steps they need to take in order to progress further along the path towards goodness.
When it comes to the powerful political figures he engages with in the book, however, Confucius is nowhere near as effective as a communicator. Even though he is more than happy to reply to the questions raised by Ji Kangzi and Duke Jing of Qi, it’s almost as if he is talking at cross-purposes with them. While these powerful but insecure rulers are looking to the sage for immediate answers to pressing problems of the day, he chooses to lecture them on the general moral principles they need to follow rather than providing them with practical advice on how to address the specific issues they’re facing. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 12: practical solutions and high-minded principles
The Analects of Confucius Book 12 brings together an eclectic mix of familiar and new contemporary and historical figures.
By far the most interesting newcomer is the colorful Duke Jing of Qi (齊景公), who only rose to power after his half-brother Duke Zhuang (齊莊公) was murdered by a disgruntled minister called Cuizi (崔子) for conducting a not-so-secret affair with his wife. After a tempestuous start to his reign, the duke together with his trusted prime minister Yan Ying (晏嬰) made Qi one of the richest and most powerful states in the Zhou kingdom, only to send it into rapid decline after falling prey to the temptations of leading a more lavish and luxurious lifestyle. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 12: Contemporary and Historical Figures
Ji Kangzi asked Confucius about governance, saying: “What would you think if I were to execute people who don’t follow the way in order to advance the people who do follow the way?” Confucius replied: “You are here to govern; what need is there to execute people? If you desire goodness, the people will be good. The virtue of a leader is like the wind; the virtue of the common people is like the grass. When the wind blows over the grass it will surely bend.”
Harsh measures may sometimes be necessary to restore order to your organization, but at best they can only provide short-term relief. The only way to build a strong and stable culture is for the leader to set the right example for everyone to follow. If the wind blows in the wrong direction, the grass will bend in the wrong direction as well. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: when the wind blows over the grass
Ji Kangzi was troubled by bandits in the state of Lu and asked Confucius how to sort out the problem. Confucius replied: “If you could get rid of your own avaricious desires, they wouldn’t steal even if you paid them to.”
People don’t listen to what you say. They look at what you do. No matter how fancy the words and rituals are that you use to wrap your desire for wealth and power in, they will quickly see through them and take their cues from your actions. If you show that greed and theft are acceptable behavior, you can hardly blame others for doing the same. Moral cultivation starts with improving the self – not complaining about what others are doing. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: troubled by bandits
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
Very little is known about Ji Ziran (季子然) except that he was a member of the powerful Ji clan and may have been the younger brother of Ji Kangzi, the chief minister of the state of Lu. He appears only once in the Analects of Confucius when he asks the sage in 11.24 if he thinks Zilu and Ran Qiu are great ministers.
Confucius responds with a veiled warning to him and his family against launching a coup to overthrow the legitimate ruler of the state, the Duke of Lu. Whether Ji Ziran understood the unspoken message Confucius was aiming to deliver is open to question. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Ji Ziran
The head of the Ji Family was wealthier than the Duke of Zhou ever was, but Ran Qiu still assisted him with the collection of taxes to further increase his wealth. Confucius said: “He’s no longer my follower. You may beat the drum and attack him, my young friends.”
There’s no point in exploding with anger when someone has done something that upsets you – particularly if they’re not actually there to hear you. It might make you feel good for a couple seconds, but pretty soon you’ll be left feeling sheepish along with everyone else who was there to witness your outburst. How do you think you would make them feel if you went as far as to call for violence against someone you’re a close friend of?
Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: an extraordinary outburst
Ji Kangzi asked: “Which of your followers love learning?” Confucius replied: “There was Yan Hui who loved learning. Sadly, his life was cut short and he died. Now there’s nobody.” (1)
There’s nothing wrong with indulging in the occasional bout of nostalgia. Just be mindful that the good old days were never quite as wonderful as you imagine them to have been. In most instances they weren’t by any measurable criterion better either – just different. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: rose-tinted glasses
When Ji Kangzi sent him some medicine, Confucius bowed as he accepted the gift but said: “Since I don’t know what this substance is, I dare not taste it.”
Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. Or, in the case of Confucius, a messenger arriving with a present from Ji Kangzi, the most powerful man in his home state of Lu who, at least in the estimation of the sage, was leading it into chaos because of his arrogant disregard for the conventions of ritual. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: beware of Greeks bearing gifts