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
Confucius traveled to Wei, with Ran Qiu driving his carriage. Confucius said: “There are so many people!” Ran Qiu said: “When there are so many people, what should be done next?” “Enrich them.” “When they are rich, what should be done next?” “Educate them.”
Recruiting the right talent is just the first step in building a vibrant organization. Once you have everyone onboard, the next step is to make sure that they have the opportunity to constantly upgrade their capabilities through continuous learning. Although rich online resources in diverse multimedia formats have made access to knowledge more convenient than ever before, building a culture that actively encourages and rewards continuous learning is essential if everyone in the organization is to keep on growing. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: continuous learning
When Ran Yong was serving as a steward of the Ji Family, he asked about governance. Confucius said: “First appoint your senior officials. Forgive small mistakes. Promote people of talent.” Ran Yong asked: “How do I recognize that someone has talent and deserves to be promoted?” Confucius said: “Promote those you know. Those you don’t know won’t be passed over.”
As a leader, your role is to set the right tone for how your team operates by selecting the best talent and letting them get on with their work without attempting to micromanage them. Quite apart from demonstrating a lack of confidence in everyone’s ability to carry out their assignments, you’ll go crazy trying to keep up with everything they’re doing in any case! Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: set the right tone
Although he grew up in relative poverty, Confucius had no interest in wealth for its own sake even if it was generated through what many would consider as legitimate business activities. Despite his close relationship with Zigong, he couldn’t resist the occasional digs at his follower’s wheeling and dealing. Many critics have even blamed him for holding back China’s economic development because of what they see as his disdain for the profit motive.
Confucius was even more critical of the rich and powerful who accumulated wealth through illegitimate means. He was particularly vociferous in his opposition to the notorious Three Families for their brutal exploitation of the common people of Lu through excessive taxation and venal corruption. This was a key bone of contention in his volatile relationship with his follower Ran Qiu, who made a fortune from serving as a steward for the powerful Ji family. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 7: Confucius on wealth
In stark contrast with the totally devoted Yan Hui, Ran Qiu isn’t that bothered about following the teachings of Confucius and adhering to the sage’s strict moral principles. In 6.12 he unrepentantly admits: “It’s not that I don’t enjoy the way of the Master, but I don’t have the strength to follow it.”
Although Confucius attempts to encourage Ran Qiu to stay on track, his response that he can give up half-way if he doesn’t have enough strength to go on suggests that the sage understands that he is pursuing a lost cause. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 6: a rocky relationship with Ran Qiu
Confucius has a high regard for Ran Yong, otherwise known as Zhonggong, judging by his opening comment in Book 6. By declaring that “Ran Yong could take a seat facing south”, he is saying that he is fit to be a feudal lord, who traditionally sat in that position while presiding over the his court and ritual ceremonies.
The sage expresses his admiration for Ran Yong using a much more colorful metaphor in 6.7 while imploring people not be prejudiced against his lowly origins and focus on his abilities. “Some might hesitate to choose the offspring of a plow ox for a sacrifice,” he says, “but if a bullock has fine horns and sports a ruddy coat would the spirits of the hills and rivers reject it?” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 6: Confucius and Ran Yong
Goodness is such an ambiguous concept that even Confucius shied away from attaching an exact meaning to it. He found it much easier to describe the benefits that the cultivation of a strong internal sense of goodness can bring to people rather than defining its precise features. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 4: the benefits of goodness
Even though Confucius is critical of several of his most loyal followers in Book 11, most notably Zilu, he reserves his most virulent scorn for Ran Qiu. In 11.17 he famously rips into him for helping the Lu strongman Ji Kangzi to levy yet more taxes on the common people by loudly declaring: “He’s no longer my follower. You may beat the drum and attack him, my young friends.”
While Confucius is justifiably upset at Ran Qiu for ignoring his advice not to impose any more unnecessary burdens onto the impoverished peasantry, he never uses such violent language towards Zilu and other followers who also helped the corrupt and venal Ji Family enrich themselves at the expense of the downtrodden Lu population. Indeed, even though Confucius often chides Zilu for his indiscretions and impetuousness, he generally adopts a much more indulgent tone towards him than Ran Qiu. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 11: Confucius and Ran Qiu
One of the most intriguing questions about Confucius is how he managed not only to build a large base of followers (traditionally numbered at 77), but more importantly how he managed to sustain their loyalty over, in some cases, many decades.
While Confucius’s great charisma, learning, and connections with senior government figures and members of the nobility were no doubt instrumental in attracting many young people to go and study with him, that doesn’t explain why the likes of Zilu, Zigong, Ran Qiu, Yan Hui, and others stuck with him through the lean times, most notably during his 14 years of exile tramping from state to state in search of employment. In a couple of notorious incidents (see 11.2 and 11.23) they even went close to losing their lives because of the scrapes Confucius got them into, but still remained faithful to him. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 11: Confucius and his followers
There are a couple of other incidents in Book 11 of the Analects that reveal what I will euphemistically call the human side of Confucius.
The first one takes place in Chapter 15 when Confucius complains about the racket Zilu is making while playing his zither. Although he probably didn’t mean any harm with this comment, his followers start giving Zilu such a hard time that Confucius has to step in and retrieve his friend’s lost pride by saying that his musical talents aren’t all that bad considering. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 11: the human side of Confucius?