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
Ran Yong asked about goodness. Confucius said: “When you’re away from home, act towards everyone as if you’re meeting an important guest. Manage people as if you’re conducting a great sacrifice. Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to yourself. Allow no resentment to enter your public affairs; allow no resentment to enter your family affairs.” Ran Yong said: “Although I may not be quick to understand it, allow me to live up to your guidance.”
Just because you had a bad day at work, that’s no excuse for taking out your frustration on your family members when you get home. Just because you had a huge argument with your partner, that’s no excuse for bawling out your staff when you get to the office. Keep your emotions under control. Treat others as you expect to be treated. Follow the Golden Rule. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: keep your emotions under control
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
Like Book 8, Book 9 of the Analects of Confucius is a bit of a hodgepodge of various sayings and episodes culled from multiple sources – making it impossible to discern a central theme. It does, however, include some revealing passages involving Confucius and three of his most faithful followers that shed further light on his relationships with them.
Confucius’s protégé and favorite Yan Hui makes the most appearances in the book with three. Zilu and Zigong both make two. The only other possible follower featured is the enigmatically-named Lao (牢) in 9.7. He is usually identified as the fastidious and relatively obscure Yuan Xian. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 9 overview: Confucius praises Yan Hui
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