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
Confucius said: “If you expand your learning through culture and keep your behavior in check through ritual you’re unlikely to go wrong.”
It can be easy to get so consumed by an idea that you lose sight of how to turn it into reality. While the numbers may look amazing in the spreadsheets and presentation files you hastily cobble together and the initial feedback from the small circle of friends you trust enough to tell them about it is off the charts, your unicorn is just a twinkle in your eye until you figure out the actionable steps that will be required to let it loose into the world. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: turning an idea into reality
Confucius said: “I can adjudicate lawsuits as well as anybody. But I would prefer to make litigation unnecessary.”
Why bother shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted? Focus instead on building a culture that prevents the steed from escaping in the first place. Rules are reactive by their very nature. They only address situations that have already taken place without identifying or eliminating the root cause. There’ll never be enough of them to cover every possible scenario that might occur. It’s only by putting the right principles, processes, and practices in place that you and your organization will become more proactive in dealing with potential problems and threats. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: after the horse has bolted
Yan Hui asked about goodness. Confucius said: “Exercising self-discipline and returning to ritual constitute goodness. If you manage to exercise self-discipline and return to ritual for just one single day, goodness will prevail throughout the world. You can only achieve goodness through your own efforts. How can it come from anybody else?” Yan Hui said: “May I ask what specific steps I should follow?” Confucius said: “Don’t look at anything that goes against ritual; don’t listen to anything that goes against ritual; don’t say anything that goes against ritual; don’t do anything that goes against ritual.” Yan Hui said: “Although I may not be quick to understand it, with your blessing I will strive to live up to your guidance.”
Only you can become your best self. Nobody else can do it for you. The buck stops with you. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: becoming your best self
Even though Confucius was a strong advocate of preserving ancient Zhou dynasty rituals in all their pristine glory, that didn’t mean that he was completely averse to making changes to them when it made sense – as long as they didn’t affect the integrity of the ceremonies.
In 9.3, he doesn’t raise any objections to replacing hemp or linen with silk in the production of ceremonial caps because it is much more economical to do so. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 9: Confucius on ritual integrity
Unlike the sainted Yan Hui, neither Zilu nor Zigong manage to earn unequivocal praise from Confucius in Book 9 of the Analects. Indeed, Confucius rebukes them both for a variety of sins – ranging from a serious violation of ritual protocol to a failure to understand the qualities required of a leader.
Zilu is the one who is responsible for breaching ritual conventions by acting as if he is a retainer of a feudal lord while the sage is seriously ill in 9.12. Given that Confucius doesn’t belong to such an august rank, he roundly scolds his well-meaning if misguided follower after he recovers: “Zilu, this deception has lasted long enough. Who do I deceive with these bogus retainers? Do I deceive heaven? Rather than die among retainers, I would prefer to die in the arms of my followers. I may not receive a grand funeral, but I’ll hardly die by the roadside.” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 9: the great forbearance of Zilu and Zigong
Zilu appointed Zigao as governor of Bi. Confucius said: “You’re harming another man’s son.” Zilu said: “There are people there for him to learn from as well as the altars of the spirits of the land and grain where he can learn how to perform ritual ceremonies. Why should learning consist only of reading books?” Confucius said: “It’s this kind of remark that makes me hate people with a smooth tongue.”
Do you need to have all the necessary paper qualifications first before going on to employment or can you pick up what you need to know on the job? For specialist fields such as medicine, law, and some engineering disciplines, you obviously do need to pass the required courses and examinations before being let loose on the unsuspected world. But for many other positions in more general areas such as sales and marketing, enthusiasm, intelligence, good writing skills, and a willingness to learn are at least as important as a degree from even the most prestigious college – if not more so. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: paper qualifications
When Yan Hui died, Confucius cried: “Alas! Heaven’s the ruin of me! Heaven’s the ruin of me!” (1)
How far should you go in masking your true emotions when disaster hits? Should you strive to remain calm and in control or is it OK to show your shock and grief with those around you? Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: letting your emotions show
Whenever Confucius saw someone in mourning dress, a grandee in ceremonial robes, or a blind person, he would always rise to his feet even if they were younger than him and quicken his step when he passed by them.
Never underestimate the potential of a friendly smile or a sincere thank you to lift the mood of people you encounter during your day. We all like to be acknowledged and appreciated for who we are and the contribution we make. Even the most seemingly innocuous of words and gestures can be enough to boost our morale and restore our faith in ourselves and the rest of humanity. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: simple acts of common courtesy
Confucius said: “Find inspiration with the Book of Songs; establish character with ritual; achieve perfection with music.” (1)
If you’re serious about inspiring creativity and innovation in your team or organization, you could do a lot worse than making poetry a key element of your efforts. Poetry not only teaches us how to express ourselves more eloquently; it can also give us a lifelong love of language and literature. Its ability to encapsulate complex and often conflicting emotions in powerful and evocative phrases provides powerful fuel for our imaginations – not to mention a powerful antidote to anodyne official language. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: poetic inspiration