Zilu asked how to serve a ruler. Confucius said: “Don’t deceive them; be willing to oppose them.”
Honesty and trust are at the core of any meaningful relationship. The one between you and your boss is no exception. If you’re not open and candid with them, they’ll soon lose their confidence in you. The last thing they want to hear are nasty surprises because you’ve kept them in the dark about unexpected problems with a client that you’ve been unable to handle or a slowdown in sales. Better to proactively voice your concerns rather than hope the problem will magically go away. The earlier you nip it in the bud, the easier it will be to solve it. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: honesty and trust
Zilu said: “When Duke Huan had Prince Jiu put to death, Shao Hu took his own life but Guan Zhong chose to keep his. Should we say that Guan Zhong was a man without goodness?” Confucius said: “Duke Huan was able to bring the rulers of all the states together nine times without having to resort to military force because of the power of Guan Zhong. Such was his goodness! Such was his goodness!”
Is it only when your organization’s very survival is at stake that you’re willing to break with convention? When everything’s humming along smoothly do you have the courage to make daring decisions on people or products that fly in the face of accepted wisdom? Or are you content to keep on steering the ship on its current course? Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: break with convention?
Zilu asked how to define a “complete person”. Confucius said: “Take someone as wise as Zang Wuzhong, as free from desire as Gongchuo, as brave as Zhuangzi of Bian, and as cultured as Ran Qiu, as well as being accomplished in ritual and music, and they may be considered a complete person.” Then he added: “But must a complete person be exactly like this today? Someone who thinks of what is right at the sight of profit, who is ready to risk their life when faced with danger, and who can endure hardship without forgetting the teachings that have guided their daily life may also be considered a complete person.”
Nobody’s a complete person. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. That’s why assembling a strong team of people who complement each other in their abilities and personalities is so important. Nobody can do everything – and neither should they want to. A tight-knit and highly-motivated team can accomplish far more than even the most talented individual. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a complete person
More by accident than design, I’ve completed my translations and commentaries for all the chapters in Book 13 of the Analects on my birthday. Not that I’m in any particular mood to celebrate given the darkening cloud that is shrouding the times that we live in.
While Confucius chose to never speak of pestilence and other natural disasters, he would certainly have had plenty to say about the fecklessness of the global ruling elite. He wouldn’t hold back his criticism of the tsunami of fake news and disinformation that is sweeping the planet either. Continue reading Notes from the field: Confucius and the rectification of the names
Zilu asked: “If the Duke of Wei were to entrust you with the government of his state, what would be your first priority?” Confucius said: “It most definitely would be to rectify the names.” Zilu said: “Really? Isn’t that a little strange? How would that make things right?” Confucius said: “How dense can you get! If a leader doesn’t understand what they’re talking about, they should remain silent. If the names aren’t correct, language doesn’t accord with the truth of things. When language doesn’t accord with the truth of things, nothing can be carried out successfully. When nothing can be carried out successfully, ritual and music won’t flourish. When ritual and music don’t flourish, punishments and penalties miss their mark. When punishments and penalties miss their mark, the people don’t know where to place their hands and feet. Therefore, a leader must be able to give the appropriate name to whatever they want to talk about, and must also make sure they do exactly as they say. When it comes to speaking, a leader doesn’t allow any carelessness.”
Say what you mean. Mean what you say. The further you deviate from the truth, the greater the problems you’ll cause – not just for you but everyone around you. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: say what you mean
Zilu asked about governance. Confucius said: “Lead the people by example. Work hard for them.” Zilu asked him for further instruction. Confucius said: “Tirelessly.”
The only way you can expect others to perform miracles is to achieve them yourself. If you’re not leading from the front, they’re not going to be running to keep up with you. If you’re not showing passion for your work, their faces aren’t exactly going to be filled with enthusiasm. You have to prove yourself to them before they’ll feel the need to start proving themselves to you. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: lead the people by example
Confucius said: “Only Zilu could pass judgment on a lawsuit after hearing half the evidence.” Zilu never slept on a promise.
It can be all too easy to postpone a decision in order to collect more data for analysis. The problem is that no matter how many terabytes you manage to gather, it will never be enough to guarantee that you’re making the right decision. Better to act fast and iterate than get caught up in an infinite loop of analysis paralysis. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: analysis paralysis
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
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