Leadership Lessons from Confucius: continuous learning
Confucius traveled to Wei, with Ran Qiu driving his carriage. Confucius said: “There are so many people!” Ran Qiu said: “When there are so many people, what should be done next?” “Enrich them.” “When they are rich, what should be done next?” “Educate them.”
Recruiting the right talent is just the first step in building a vibrant organization. Once you have everyone onboard, the next step is to make sure that they have the opportunity to constantly upgrade their capabilities through continuous learning. Although rich online resources in diverse multimedia formats have made access to knowledge more convenient than ever before, building a culture that actively encourages and rewards continuous learning is essential if everyone in the organization is to keep on growing.
This article features a translation of Chapter 9 of Book 13 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 13 here.
(1) There is extensive commentarial debate over whether Confucius means that rulers should make sure that the material needs of their people are met before teaching them moral values or that they should carry out both tasks at the same time. Given that food and shelter are the top priority for people living in poverty, the former interpretation makes the most sense. Once their basic needs are satisfied, people as a general rule are more receptive to education.
(2) State rulers actively competed with each other to attract new people during the Spring and Autumn Period. They were always in need of additional pairs of hands to farm their uncultivated land and, of course, contribute their taxes to their treasuries, labor to their road and irrigation projects, and strength to their armies. If the rulers exploited the common people too heavily, however, they would simply up sticks and seek out another more welcoming state to settle in. Having a large population was thus seen as a sign of good governance.