A total of seven followers of Confucius are featured in Book 14 of the Analects. The faithful Zilu and Zigong make the lion’s share of appearances, with six and four respectively. Yuan Xian, Nan Rong, Ran Qiu, Zengzi, and Zizhang are confined to solitary mentions. For Yuan Xian and Nan Rong, the book marks their final curtain call in the Analects.
Zilu and Zigong set off the most contentious discussion with Confucius in the book by questioning the goodness of Guan Zhong, the great chief minister of the state of Qi, in 14.16 and 14.17. When they imply that Guan Zhong should have committed suicide alongside his colleague Shao Hu following the execution of their master Prince Jiu, Confucius launches into two remarkable rants that reveal a much more hardheaded side of the sage’s character than is usually seen in the Analects. Continue reading Analects Book 14: Confucius defends Guan Zhong to Zilu and Zigong
Zifu Jingbo (子服景伯) was a high-level official in the government of the state of Lu, who was so outraged by the accusations made against Zilu by Ji Family retainer Gongbo Liao (公伯寮) that in 14.36 he boasts that he still possesses enough power “to have Liao’s corpse splayed open in the market and court” for slander.
In 19.22, he rats out his fellow minister Shusun Wushu (叔孫武叔) to Zigong for claiming that Zigong was superior to Confucius. Zigong puts his attempt at mischief-making firmly in its place by telling Jingbo that since very few people really knew Confucius he isn’t surprised by such a comment. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Zifu Jingbo
Zigong was in the habit of criticizing other people. Confucius said: “Zigong must already be perfect. I have no free time for that.”
Why bother going through the pain of addressing your own weaknesses when you can achieve so much more by criticizing other people? After all, you’re already performing at a much higher level than everyone else. They’re the ones who would benefit from some timely guidance and advice from a proven winner like you. Indeed, they should be grateful that you’re willing to take some valuable time out of your busy schedule to provide them with penetrating insights that will enable them to improve how they work and make faster progress in their career. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: criticizing other people
Confucius said: “A leader adheres to three principles that I haven’t been able to live up to: the good are never anxious; the wise are never perplexed; the brave are never afraid.” Zigong said: “Master, you’ve just described yourself.”
There’s no harm in admitting to others that you’re not perfect. Like everyone else you have your strengths and weaknesses. Better to show people that you acknowledge the aspects of your character that need to improve rather than try to hide or deny them. Anyone who cares about you will respect you for it. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: not perfect
Kong Wenzi (孔文子) was the posthumous name given to Kong Yu (孔圉) a minister of the state of Wei who died about a year before Confucius in around 480 BCE.
Kong’s posthumous name literally means Kong-the-Refined or Kong-the-Cultured. Many people at the time considered this to be rather ironic given that he was said to have been an unsavory character notorious for his disloyalty and dissoluteness. No wonder Zigong is so befuddled in 14.19 by the news that Kong had been given such an honor! Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Kong Wenzi
Zigong said: “Guan Zhong wasn’t a good person, was he? After Duke Huan had Prince Jiu put to death, he not only chose to live but also served as the duke’s chief minister.” Confucius said: “By serving as Duke Huan’s chief minister, Guan Zhong imposed his authority over all the states and brought order to the world; the people still reap the benefits of his actions until this day. Without Guan Zhong, we would still be wearing our hair loose and folding our robes on the wrong side. Or would you prefer it if he had drowned himself in a ditch like some wretched husband or wife in their petty fidelity and died with nobody knowing about it?”
No matter how many times you’ve been asked the same question, there’s no need to explode when someone raises it yet again. Sharp retorts and derisive comments may make you feel good at the time, but they add nothing to the conversation. At best they will only serve to discourage open discussion and debate among your staff and at worst they could end up destroying your career. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: sharp retorts and derisive comments
Zigong asked: “What qualities must you possess to be called a true scholar-official?” Confucius said: “A person who maintains a sense of humility and can be sent on a mission to the four corners of the earth without bringing disgrace to their ruler can be called a true scholar-official.” “May I ask what type of person ranks one step below that?” “A person who is praised by their relatives for their filial devotion and who is known by the people of their neighborhood for being respectful towards their elders.” “May I ask what type of person ranks one step below that?” “A person whose word can be trusted and who completes whatever task they undertake. In their stubborn determination, they may resemble a petty person, but they could still probably qualify as a scholar-official of a lower rank.” “How would you rate the people currently involved in public affairs?” “Sadly, these are people you measure by a bucket or scoop. They’re not even worth mentioning.”
How many hard-working and trustworthy people of a “lower rank” do you have in your organization with the potential to take on a leadership role? What steps are you taking to provide them with the experience and training they need to show what they’re really made of? As technologies like AI proliferate, you are going to need far more people who can act like a “true scholar-official” than ever before. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a true scholar-official
Zigong asked about friendship. Confucius said: “Advise your friends loyally and guide them tactfully. If that fails, stop: don’t disgrace yourself.”
It’s not your responsibility to tell your friends how to lead their lives or to intervene when they are facing a serious problem. Even if you don’t agree with the decisions or actions they’re taking, keep your lips buttoned unless they come to you for advice or support. Even then, don’t go overboard unless you’re prepared to risk becoming the target of their anger and resentment. There’s a fine line between helping someone and interfering in their affairs. When it comes to friendship advice, never forget the old saying about the road to hell being paved with good intentions. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: friendship advice
Nothing is known about Ji Zicheng (棘子成) except that he was a minister in the state of Wei. Ji makes only one appearance in the Analects when he questions the value of cultural refinement in a dialog with Confucius’s follower Zigong in 12.8.
Some commentators speculate that Ji was obliquely criticizing the ruling elite for their preference for vapid displays of rhetorical and sartorial excess over political and administrative substance with his attack on cultural refinement. Others suggest he may having been having a go at Zigong for his fastidious approach to bettering himself. Perhaps it was a bit of both. Continue reading Contemporary figures in the Analects of Confucius: Ji Zicheng
Ji Zicheng said: “Native substance determines whether or not you’re a leader. What use is cultural refinement?” Zigong said: “What a pity you’ve chosen to describe a leader in this way. ‘A team of horses cannot catch up with a tongue.’ Cultural refinement is native substance; native substance is cultural refinement. Without their hair, the pelts of tigers and leopards are just the same as those of a dog or a sheep.”
It takes much more than raw talent to become a leader. Native smarts and a raging fire in your belly can only get you so far. The larger and more complex your startup grows, the more you’ll need to develop your knowledge and skills to meet ever greater and more diverse challenges. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: native substance versus cultural refinement