The Analects of Confucius Book 12 brings together a large cast of familiar followers of the sage. It also introduces a new one called Sima Niu, who makes his debut in 12.3 only to head off into the sunset two chapters later never to be seen or heard of again.
Sima Niu was a government official from the state of Song. In his conversations with Confucius, he asks for guidance on how to deal with his eldest brother’s plans to overthrow the rightful ruler of the state with a couple of indirect questions about the nature of goodness leadership. Although Confucius gives him sensible advice on how to conduct himself, he sensibly avoids striking at the heart of the matter. In 12.5, with his brother’s attempted coup a failure, Sima Niu’s lament that he alone has no brothers earns him a withering riposte from the follower Zixia, which is often misattributed to Confucius: “Within the four seas all men are brothers!” Continue reading Analects of Confucius Book 12: followers
Zizhang asked: “When is it possible to say that someone is accomplished?” Confucius said: “It depends on what you mean by being accomplished.” Zizhang replied: “To be recognized in public and private life.” Confucius said: “That is celebrity, not accomplishment. An accomplished person is straightforward by nature and loves what is right. They listen to what others have to say, observe their moods and expressions, and are respectful to others. Such a person is sure to be accomplished in their public and private life. Someone seeking celebrity puts on an ostentatious display of goodness while behaving in the opposite way free of any self-doubt. They will definitely be recognized in their public and private life.”
Be very careful before you hire someone who has the perfect resume and comes with glowing letters of recommendation. Don’t take their accomplishments at face value. Dig deeper to find out what actual role they played in doubling annual sales or landing a major client by reaching out to others involved in the work. Perhaps the portrait they present of themselves doesn’t quite provide the true picture. Better to know what substance lies beneath the pretty package before you open it. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: celebrity versus accomplishment
Zizhang asked about governance. Confucius said: “Execute the responsibilities of your office tirelessly. Carry out your duties faithfully.”
Even if you’re unhappy about the assignment you’ve been given, carry it out to the best of your ability. The more successful you are in executing it, the greater the levels of trust and respect you’ll gain from your colleagues and bosses. Once you have demonstrated your ability to deliver on your commitments, people will come to you with ever more interesting projects and opportunities that will expand the scope of your responsibilities and influence. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: to the best of your ability
Zizhang asked about the phrase “accumulate virtue, resolve confusion”. Confucius said: “Place loyalty and trust above everything and follow the path of rightness to accumulate virtue. When you love someone, you want them to live; when you hate someone, you want them to die. But if you want someone to live and to die at the same time, that’s confusion.”
It may not be just because she is wealthy,
It may also be out of a need for variety.
Pivoting is a sign of weakness not strength. Once you’ve set your course, focus on building up the capabilities and cohesiveness of your team in order to accomplish your mission. Of course, you’re always going to experience doubts about the path you’re taking. But the more you’re tempted to divert from it, the greater the unnecessary drama and confusion you’ll create. Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: drama and confusion
Zizhang asked about vision. Confucius said: “If you’re soaked with slander and wounded by insults but still do not falter, you may be said to have vision. Indeed, you may also be said to be farsighted.”
Ignore all the doubters and critics with their petty insults and slanders. You only get one shot at life. Stick to your vision of what you want to accomplish with it. No point in wasting precious time and energy worrying about what others have to say.
Continue reading Leadership Lessons from Confucius: stick to your vision
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