Nangong Kuo asked Confucius, saying: “Yi was a great archer and Ao was a great sailor, but neither died a natural death. Yu and Ji toiled on the land, but they came to own the world.” Confucius made no reply. Nangong Kuo left. Confucius said: “He’s a true leader! This man truly prizes virtue!”
Political battles are inevitable in any organization. Resist the temptation to join the fray. Even if you do end up coming out on top, the sweet taste of victory will soon sour as you scramble to sort out the divisions that have emerged in its wake. Better to have focused your energy and talent in a positive direction in the first place. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: the sweet taste of victory?
The Analects of Confucius Book 12 brings together an eclectic mix of familiar and new contemporary and historical figures.
By far the most interesting newcomer is the colorful Duke Jing of Qi (齊景公), who only rose to power after his half-brother Duke Zhuang (齊莊公) was murdered by a disgruntled minister called Cuizi (崔子) for conducting a not-so-secret affair with his wife. After a tempestuous start to his reign, the duke together with his trusted prime minister Yan Ying (晏嬰) made Qi one of the richest and most powerful states in the Zhou kingdom, only to send it into rapid decline after falling prey to the temptations of leading a more lavish and luxurious lifestyle. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 12: Contemporary and Historical Figures
Gao Yao (皋陶) was a member of court of the sage king Shun and served as a minister responsible for justice and music. So great did his reputation become that he was worshipped as the God of Justice in ancient China and the house of Li, which established the Tang dynasty, claimed him as an ancestor.
Although Gao was an advocate of capital punishment for perpetrators of fraud, corruption, and murder, he argued against the ancient tradition of punishing their whole families for their crimes. He also urged that the law should be applied fairly, so that no innocent defendants were punished unjustly. This was a revolutionary principle given the harsh and arbitrary nature of the justice system at the time. Continue reading Historical Figures in the Analects of Confucius: Gao Yao
Fan Chi asked about goodness. Confucius said: “Love others.” He then asked about wisdom. Confucius said: “Know others.” Fan Chi didn’t understand. Confucius said: “Promote the upright and place them above the crooked, so that they can straighten the crooked.” Fan Chi left. When he met Zixia he asked: “A short while ago when I saw Confucius I asked him about wisdom. He said: ‘Promote the upright and place them above the crooked, so that they can straighten the crooked.’ What does this mean?” Zixia said: “These are rich words indeed! When Shun ruled the world and was choosing from among the masses, he selected Gao Yao and those without goodness went away. When Tang ruled the world and was choosing from among the masses, he selected Yi Yin and those without goodness went away.”
One of the most important attributes of a leader is to be an excellent judge of character. Without having the right people in place, it’s impossible to build a strong and vibrant culture in your organization. Even the most beautifully crafted vision and values statements won’t have a cat in hell’s chance of being implemented if you if there’s nobody on the ground to embody them. Be very careful in how you hire and develop people to make sure you “promote the upright and place them above the crooked.” Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: promote the upright
Confucius didn’t “do god” in the sense of worshiping a specific deity or religion, but he did subscribe to a belief in the idea of an all-seeing and all-knowing “heaven” (天/tiān) that acted as a sort of moral guide for the world and bestowed its will or mandate (命/mìng) on virtuous individuals to rule the world wisely and benignly. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 2: Confucius on the mandate of heaven
Book 8 of the Analects of Confucius features only one of the sage’s followers. Thanks no doubt to some editorial skullduggery from his own followers, who played in important role in compiling the Analects, the young pretender Zengzi is given five chapters to spout his wisdom. Even though, in first two at least, he is lying on his death bed, it’s hard to summon up any sympathy for him given the pretentiousness of his utterances.
The book isn’t exactly filled with contemporary figures either, featuring only two. Meng Jingzi, a member of the Meng clan, one of the notorious Three Families that ran the state of Lu, receives a rollicking from Zengzi in 8.4 for his tendency towards micromanagement in his one and only appearance in the Analects. Music Master Zhi fares much better in 8.15 when Confucius praises his “rich and beautiful music” to the skies. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 8: by numbers
The greatest love that Confucius preferred to pursue rather than wealth was music (see 7.11). He is said to have been a fairly decent musician himself, and in 7.13 is described as being so enraptured by a performance of Shao music that he saw during a visit to the state of Qi that he “didn’t know the taste of meat” for three months.
Confucius didn’t just love music for its aesthetic beauty. He also saw it as the ultimate embodiment of cultural sophistication and civilization with its power to elevate people’s senses and thoughts to ever greater levels of harmony with each other and their surrounding environment. When combined with ritual, it exemplified the values that everyone could achieve if they followed the way he laid out for them. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 7: Confucius’s love of music
Confucius said: “Shun and Yu were so majestic! They reigned over the world but never profited from it.” (1)
There’s always more than one side to every story. Before you decide whether to buy in to the version of it that someone is telling you, take some time to understand their motives in bringing it to your attention. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: selfless devotion to duty?
Zigong said: “What about someone who acts generously towards the people and benefits the masses? Could that be described as goodness?” Confucius said: “Why stop at calling it goodness? It could be defined as perfection. Even Yao and Shun wouldn’t be able to match it! Good people help others get on their feet while establishing their own career; they help others to achieve their goals while achieving their own objectives. By standing in other people’s shoes, it can be said that they’re on the right track to goodness.” (1) (2)
A rising tide lifts all boats. Leadership is not just about improving your own effectiveness but also that of everyone around you. It requires building a platform that enables everyone to learn and grow. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: a rising tide lifts all boats
Confucius described Shao music as being perfectly beautiful and perfectly good and Wu music as being perfectly beautiful but not perfectly good.
Is there a moral component to deciding whether someone or something has attained perfection? Confucius certainly thought so. That’s why he gives Shao music the edge over Wu music in this passage. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: considering the moral component