子禽問於子貢曰：「夫子至於是邦也，必聞其政，求之與？抑與之與？子貢曰：「夫子溫良恭儉讓以得之，夫子之求之也，其諸異乎人之求之與？」 Ziqin asked Zigong: “When the Master arrives in another state and needs to find out about the affairs of its government, does he have to ask for this information or do people give him it of their own accord?” Zigong replied: “The Master obtains it by being warm, kind, courteous, unassuming, and deferential. He uses a different method for seeking out information than other people, doesn’t he?” (1)
Treating people respectfully is a much more effective way of finding out what is happening than questioning them aggressively. The more interest you show in listening to what somebody has to say, the more likely they are to reveal what is really going on. Warmth, kindness, and courtesy go a long way.
曾子曰：「慎終追遠，民德歸厚矣。」 Zengzi said: “When the dead are shown proper reverence and the memory of distant ancestors is kept alive, the people’s virtue is at its highest.” (1) (2)
It can be very easy to take the culture of your organization for granted. But showing respect for its history and the people who established and built it is vital for forming a common bond among everyone who joins it.
子曰：「君子不重，則不威，學則不固。主忠信，無友不如己者，過則勿憚改。」 The Master said: “A leader who has no gravity lacks dignity and a solid foundation for learning. “Hold loyalty and trustworthiness as your highest principles; don’t make friends with people who are not your equal; when you make a mistake, don’t be afraid to correct yourself.”
Seriousness of purpose is critical in a leader. Without having a strong commitment to achieve your goal, how will you be able to put in the hard work necessary to accomplish it and to inspire other people to support you?
子曰：「弟子入則孝，出則弟，謹而信，汎愛眾，而親仁。行有餘力，則以學文。」 The Master said: “A young man should be filial at home and fraternal outside it. He should be cautious and truthful, love everyone, but only develop close relationships with good people. If he still has energy to spare after all this, he should study the classics.”
How to prepare the young generation for a fast-moving and turbulent world? This was just as daunting a challenge in Confucius’s day as it is in ours due the politically and socially unstable times that he lived in. Finding suitable jobs in the bureaucracy or estates of the hereditary ruling calls was just as tough as it is nowadays for educated young people without family connections, and there was at least an equal chance of being caught up in violence and wars as the different states vied with each other for supremacy.
子曰：「道千乘之國，敬事而信，節用而愛人，使民以時。」 The Master said: “The way to rule a thousand-chariot state is to devote yourself to its affairs and fulfill your commitments; be economical in expenditure and love your people; and mobilize the common people for labor at the right times of the year.” (1) (2)
No matter how large the group or organization you lead is, the principles you should follow in order to create a productive and harmonious culture remain the same: show a strong work ethic and live up to the promises you make; keep operational costs to minimum and care for the people you work with; and don’t make unnecessary demands on them unless it is absolutely necessary.
子曰：「巧言令色鮮矣仁。」 The Master said: “Smooth talk and an affected manner are seldom signs of goodness.” (1)
How do you deal with the sycophants that inevitably gravitate towards you like bees to a honeypot when you reach a leadership position? It’s easy enough to dismiss them for their “smooth talk” and “affected manner” as Confucius does in Chapter 3 of Book 1 of the Analects, but much more challenging to create a culture around you that doesn’t stand for such behavior in the first place.
有子曰：「其為人也孝弟，而好犯上者，鮮矣；不好犯上，而好作亂者，未之有也。君子務本，本立而道生。孝弟也者，其為仁之本與！」 Youzi said: “A man who shows filial and fraternal devotion is unlikely to question the authority of his superiors. Such a man will never provoke disorder. A leader focuses on the root; once this takes hold the way appears. Filial and fraternal devotion is the root of goodness.”
Confucius was a master of talent development, training hundreds if not thousands of followers (1) who went on to take official positions and run businesses in the patchwork quilt of states that comprised China during his lifetime.
子曰：「學而時習之，不亦說乎？有朋自遠方來，不亦樂乎？人不知而不慍，不亦君子乎？」 The Master said: “Isn’t it a pleasure to study and repeatedly apply the lessons you’ve learned? Isn’t it a joy to have friends visit from afar? Isn’t it the mark of a leader to go unacknowledged without letting it annoy you?”(1)
How do you become a leader? This is the central theme of the teachings of Confucius as recorded in The Analects. The answer is by studying the core principles hard and iterating the lessons you have learned from them so enthusiastically that they become an unconscious part of who you are and how you conduct yourself. There are no magical shortcuts in this process, though that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be an enjoyable one. There are no guaranteed earthly or heavenly rewards for following it either. You pursue this path because it is the right thing to do, not because there is a pot of gold at the end of it or any likes or retweets along the way. (2)
The best leader is one whose presence is unknown to his people;
The next best is one who is loved and praised;
The next is one who is feared;
The worst is one who is despised;
When a leader has no trust in his people,
The people have no trust in him.
The best leader reflects and chooses his words carefully.
When his objective is achieved and the work is done,
The people all say, “We did it ourselves.” Continue reading Daodejing Chapter 17: the best leader→