Tag Archives: leadership

Leadership lessons from Confucius: look, listen, and learn

Temple of Yan Hui: look, listen, and learn

子曰:「視其所以,觀其所由,察其所安。人焉廋哉?人焉廋哉?」
The Master said: “Watch what they do, observe how they do it, and examine what makes them feel content. How then can they conceal their true self? How then can they conceal their true self?”

Take a close look at the people you work with. Their actions and demeanor speak much louder than the words they speak. Are they approaching their jobs with genuine enthusiasm and passion or are they simply going through the motions? Are they trying to impress you so that they can get ahead or are they truly focused on the task at hand? Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: look, listen, and learn

Leadership lessons from Confucius: deep listening

Temple of Yan Hui: deep listening

子曰:「吾與回言終日,不違如愚。退而省其私,亦足以發,回也不愚。」
The Master said: “I can talk to Yan Hui all day without him ever arguing with me, as if he is slow. But when I observe how he behaves in private after he has retired from my presence, I can see that he’s learned everything I’ve taught him. Indeed, Hui isn’t slow at all.”

When was the last time you really listened to someone speak without sneaking a surreptitious glance at your smart phone or even just around the room? Think carefully before you give an answer. By “really listened” I mean that you gave them your full and undivided attention – not just taking in every word they said but also observing the expressions that appeared on their faces and the movements their bodies made? Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: deep listening

Leadership lessons from Confucius: personal development path

personal development path

子曰:「吾十有五而志于學,三十而立,四十而不惑,五十而知天命,六十而耳順,七十而從心所欲,不踰矩。」
The Master said: “At fifteen, I applied myself to learning. At thirty, I set my course. At forty, I had no more doubts. At fifty, I understood how the world works. At sixty my ear was attuned. At seventy, I followed all my heart’s desires without overstepping the line.” (1) (2) (3)

Do you have a personal development path? How do you see yourself growing over the next few decades? Will you be able to achieve the same level of contentment that Confucius claims to have reached in this famous snapshot that he composed of his life. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: personal development path

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。」
The Master 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 the rites, 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 interference into individuals’ lives. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: unintended consequences

Situational leadership in The Analects and the Daodejing

One very good reason to study The Analects and the Daodejing is that, for all the archaic and in the latter case mystic language they feature, these two ancient works focus on providing practical solutions to real-world problems.

Unlike many of the works in the Western philosophical cannon, neither text features an agonized search for a universal “truth” or any promises of eternal salvation for ascribing to the “right” set of values or behaving in the “correct” manner. Instead, they are concerned with dealing with the challenges of the here and now, exploring how you can improve your character to make a greater contribution to the stability and prosperity of your family, community, and society overall. Continue reading Situational leadership in The Analects and the Daodejing

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: like carving and polishing stones

like carving and polishing stones

子貢曰:「貧而無諂,富而無驕,何如?」子曰:「可也,未若貧而樂,富而好禮者也。」子貢曰:「詩云:『如切如磋,如琢如磨』,其斯之謂與?」子曰:「賜也,始可與言詩已矣,告諸往而知來者。」
Zigong said: “’Poor but not subservient; wealthy but not arrogant.’ What do you think of that?” The Master said: “Not bad, but this would be better still: ‘Poor but content; wealthy but loves the rites.’” Zigong said: “In the Book of Songs it is said: ‘Like carving and polishing stones, like cutting and grinding gems.’ Is this not the same idea?” Confucius said: “Wonderful, Zigong! At last I can discuss the Book of Songs with you! Based on what I’ve already said, you can work out what’s coming next!”

“Like carving and polishing stones, like cutting and grinding gems.” This line from the ancient Book of Songs (1) that Zigong (2) quotes to Confucius during their bout of poetic banter provides the perfect metaphor for the process of self-cultivation. The modern-day equivalent would be, I suppose, “sharpening the saw.” Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: like carving and polishing stones

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: love learning

love learning

子曰:「君子食無求飽,居無求安,敏於事而慎於言,就有道而正焉,可謂好學也已。」
The Master said: “A leader eats without filling his stomach; he chooses a home without demanding comfort; he is diligent in his work and cautious in his speech; and he keeps the company of others who possess the way to make sure that he stays on the right path. This is what it means to truly love learning.” (1)

Leadership requires focusing your energy on cultivating the self rather than pursuing the material trappings of success. This means working hard, being careful about what you say, and spending your time with people who can help you improve through the example they set and the knowledge they share with you. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: love learning

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: mini-clones

mini-clones

子曰:「父在觀其志,父沒觀其行,三年無改於父之道,可謂孝矣。」
The Master said: “When the father is alive, observe his son’s intentions. When the father is dead, watch his son’s actions. If after three years he has not deviated from his father’s path, then he may be called a filial son.”

One of the most dangerous risks you can take as a leader is to surround yourself with people who think and act the same way as you do. This not only shuts out diversity of opinions and thoughts, but it also leads to a “yes-man” culture in which the path to career advancement is built on keeping the boss happy.

Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: mini-clones