Zizhang asked how to become a perfect person. Confucius said: “If you don’t follow the path others have trodden, you can’t enter the inner chamber.”
What kind of role model do you provide for your colleagues and members of your family? Are you even conscious that others will take their cues from how you act and behave accordingly? If you arrive on time for work every day, chances are that everyone else will too. But if you allow yourself a more flexible schedule, they’re just as likely to follow your example. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: on role models
Zigao is dumb; Zengzi is dull; Zizhang is frivolous; Zilu is reckless. (1)
How seriously do you take the annual review process for your staff? Do you approach it as a box-ticking exercise to keep HR and senior management off your back? Or do you use it as an opportunity to have a frank and serious conversation with each member of your team in order to let them know what you think about their performance and come up with ways of addressing any shortcomings in them that you’ve identified? Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: the dreaded annual review process
Zigong asked: “Who is better: Zizhang or Zixia?” Confucius said: “Zizhang overshoots the mark and Zixia falls short of the mark.” Zigong said: “Then Zizhang must be better?” Confucius said: “Both miss the mark.”
When does your greatest strength become your greatest weakness? This is a question you should think deeply about when analyzing your actions. A lot may depend on the circumstances you’re in.
Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: both miss the mark
Chen Wenzi (陳文子) was a high-ranking minister in Qi (齊), who left the state after his fellow minister Cuizi (崔子) arranged the assassination of Duke Zhuang (齊莊公) in 548 BCE for conducting an adulterous affair with his wife.
When Chen Wenzi moved to other states, however, he discovered that the officials there were no better than those in Qi and thus had to keep moving on.
Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Chen Wenzi
Ziwen (子文) was chief minister of the state of Chu (楚), taking office for the first time in 663 BCE. He was famous for his integrity and loyalty to the state, despite being dismissed from the position of chief minister on three occasions.
According to legend, Ziwen was the love child of a noble from Chu and was looked after by a tigress after he was left in a swamp after his birth. Subsequently, he was discovered by a man from another noble family who brought him up as if he was his son. Later on, he was welcomed back to his own family and made its heir.
Continue reading Historical figures in the Analects of Confucius: Ziwen
Zizhang asked: “Ziwen was appointed chief minister three times, but he never showed the least sign of elation. He was dismissed three times, but he never showed the least sign of disappointment. On each occasion, he briefed his successor on the status of the affairs of his office. What do you think of him?” Confucius said: “He was loyal.” Zizhang asked: “Was he a good person?” Confucius said: “I’m not sure; how can he be said to be a good person?”
“When Cuizi assassinated the ruler of the state of Qi, Chen Wenzi abandoned his large estate of ten chariots and left Qi. Having settled in another state, he said: ‘They are no better than Cuizi,’ and left. Having settled in yet another state, he said once again: ‘They are no better than Cuizi,’ and left once again. What do you think of him?” Confucius said: “He was pure.” Zizhang said: “Was he a good person?” “I’m not sure; how can he be said to be a good person?”
How do you deal with success and failure? Do you break out the champagne when you get a major promotion or win a big and lucrative deal? Do you cry into your empty wine glass when you lose your job or miss out on a huge business opportunity? Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: dealing with life’s ups and down
Book 2 of the Analects introduces five followers of Confucius for the first time, including his favorite and protégé Yan Hui, who left the sage totally devastated when he died at the young age of thirty-two. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 2: followers of Confucius
Confucius is almost universally (and unfairly) blamed for the style of rote-learning that has plagued Chinese education for millennia. In reality, however, he advocated a balanced and intellectually-rigorous approach to learning that remains highly relevant even today. Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 2: Confucius on balanced learning
Zizhang asked: “Can we predict the future ten generations from now?” Confucius said: “The Yin Dynasty adopted the rites of the Xia Dynasty; we know what was dropped and what was added. The Zhou Dynasty borrowed from the rites of the Yin Dynasty: we know what was dropped and what was added. If the Zhou Dynasty has successors, we know what they will be like, even a hundred generations from now.”
How to manage continuity and change? This is a key challenge for any leader. What elements do you need to add to your organization so that it’s ready to meet the challenges of the future? What elements do you need to drop that are holding it back? Perhaps most important, what are the core values you need to retain to ensure its long-term resilience? Without such an anchor, your organization will undoubtedly veer off course and crash into the rocks. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: continuity and change
Zizhang was studying with the aim of securing an official position. Confucius said: “Listen for as much information as possible, ignore anything that is suspect, and be cautious when talking about the rest; that way you will only rarely say anything out of place. Observe as much as possible, ignore anything that is dangerous, and carefully apply the rest to your actions; that way you will rarely have reason for regret. By speaking cautiously to avoid mistakes and acting carefully to avoid regrets, your career is set.” (1)
How to mentor raw talent? Do you directly criticize their weaknesses, or do you indirectly encourage them to improve certain aspects of their behavior? Confucius takes the latter approach with his bright but brash young follower Zizhang. Rather than taking a stick to him for his rashness and arrogance, Confucius dangles a carrot in front of him by counseling him to adopt a more low-key approach if he wants to get secure a government job. Continue reading Leadership lessons from Confucius: on mentoring