Leadership Lessons from Confucius: a bittersweet moment

Richard Brown
2 min readMay 2, 2019

Duke Ai asked: “Which of your followers love learning?” Confucius replied: “There was Yan Hui who loved learning; he never vented his anger; he never made the same mistake again. Sadly, his allotted time was short and he died. I have not heard of anyone else with such a love of learning.”

It’s always a bittersweet moment when one of the star members of your team decides to move on to pastures new. On the one hand, you’re happy for them because they have found an exciting new opportunity and perhaps even a little proud at the part you have played in helping them to develop their character and talent.

On the other hand, you can’t help feeling disappointed that all the time and effort you’ve put into training and mentoring them have been for nothing as they put their experience and skills to use on a different stage.

There’s no point in taking your star’s resignation personally or in gnashing your teeth at their treachery. You have plenty of other members of your team with just as much potential. Now you can focus more on helping them to hone their skills and passion.

As for the star who has moved on, keep in friendly contact with them. Maybe one day you’ll do a major deal with them or even bring them back full of fresh new ideas and enthusiasm after a few years away.


This article features a translation of Chapter 3 of Book 6 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 6 here.

(2) Confucius was absolutely devastated by the untimely death of his protégé Yan Hui. This is isn’t the only time that he laments his loss in the Analects. Other instances can be found in 9.21 and 11.9 and 11.10.

I took this image at the Temple of Mencius in Zoucheng, a small town near to Qufu.



Richard Brown

I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.