Leadership Lessons from Confucius: driving meaningful change
Confucius said: “If a ruler were to employ me, I would have everything under control in one year and in three years the results would show.”
Never underestimate how challenging it is to drive meaningful change. Stirring vision statements and pretty PowerPoint slides are just the starting point. It takes a huge amount of time, effort, and commitment to make sure that everyone not only accepts and understands the new direction you’re leading the organization in but also embraces and implements it. If you don’t actively lead from the front, nobody will get behind you.
This article features a translation of Chapter 10 of Book 13 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 13 here.
(1) According to Sima Qian in the Records of the Historian, Confucius was in the state of Wei hoping to secure a high-level position in the government. When he was appointed as chief magistrate of the small city of Zhongdu in 502 BCE, he is said to have achieved such great success in the post that it became a model of order and prosperity within a year. Given that Wei was a large state rather than a small city and members of its ruling class were embroiled in bitter power struggles under the aging ruler Duke Ling, Confucius extended his time frame for sorting things out there from one year to three. Unfortunately, he was unsuccessful in gaining the appointment he coveted and was thus denied the opportunity to show what he and his ideas were made of on a bigger stage.