子曰：「興於詩，立於禮，成於樂。」 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→
子之所慎：齊，戰，疾。 Confucius was cautious about these matters: fasting; war; disease. (1) (2)
Purification is the key to giving a great presentation. That means slimming down your narrative by removing all its extraneous threads and practicing until you know it so well that you can deliver it without having to look at your slides. Only then can you convey its full meaning and stir the emotions of the audience. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: fasting; war; disease→
子曰：「管仲之器小哉。」或曰：「管仲儉乎？」曰：「管氏有三歸，官事不攝，焉得儉？然則管仲知禮乎？」曰：「邦君樹塞門，管氏亦樹塞門。邦君為兩君之好，有反坫，管氏亦有反坫。管氏而知禮，孰不知禮？」 Confucius said: “Guan Zhong had his limitations.” Someone objected: “Do you mean that Guan Zhong wasn’t frugal?” Confucius replied: “Guan Zhong had three households, each one staffed by a huge retinue. How could he be called frugal?” “But didn’t he know ritual?” “Even though only the ruler of a state can place a screen to mask the view of his gate, he also had one installed. Even though only the ruler of a state can use a special stand to place his inverted cup on when meeting with another ruler, Guan Zhong had one too. If you say Guan Zhong knew ritual, then who doesn’t know it?”
Before you read a single word of the Analects, it is important to understand that the work comprises a collection of conversations and aphorisms rather than a manifesto. Each of its twenty books features multiple exchanges between multiple characters discussing multiple topics – much like a modern-day social media feed. There are no linear arguments based on carefully-marshaled facts that build up to a resounding conclusion. It is left to you, the reader, to pick through the various threads of the text and connect them to the others to build up your overall understanding of the teachings contained in it. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 1: Overview→
Read this new English translation of the Analects of Confucius Book 1 to learn more about the teachings of China’s most famous philosopher. Its main themes include learning, filial devotion, self-cultivation, and leadership.
Confucius said: “Isn’t it a pleasure to study and constantly apply the lessons that you’ve learned? Isn’t it a joy to have friends visit from afar? Isn’t it the mark of a leader to remain unconcerned when others don’t recognize your talents?” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 1: New English Translation→
有子曰：「信近於義，言可復也。恭近於禮，遠恥辱也。因不失其親，亦可宗也。」 Youzi said: “If your commitments conform to what is right, you will be able to keep your word. If your manners conform to ritual, you will be able to avoid shame and disgrace. Only if you associate with reliable people will you be successful.”
Making rash promises that you have no hope or intention of fulfilling is a sure way of eroding the trust that people have in you. You might be able to get away with it for a while through sheer force of personality or verbal dexterity, but eventually the chickens will come home to roost and your credibility will be destroyed. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: rash promises→
有子曰：「禮之用，和為貴。先王之道，斯為美，小大由之，有所不行，知和而和，不以禮節之，亦不可行也。」 Youzi said: “When practicing ritual, harmony matters most. This is what made the way of the ancient kings so admirable and inspired their every action, no matter how great or small. But they also knew where to draw the line: seeking harmony for its own sake without it being regulated by ritual won’t work.” (1)
Promoting a strong esprit de corps is a key responsibility of a leader. Without high levels of cooperation between individuals and departments, silos can quickly appear in an organization and rivalries between different groups can lead to unnecessary inefficiencies and even conflicts.