Leadership Lessons from Confucius: fit for government office?

Ji Kangzi asked: “Is Zilu fit for government office?” Confucius said: “Zilu is resolute. Why isn’t he fit for government office?” Ji Kangzi asked again: “Is Zigong fit for government office?” Confucius said: “Zigong is intelligent. Why isn’t he fit for government office?” Ji Kangzi asked again: “Is Ran Qiu fit to be appointed to government office?” Confucius said: “Ran Qiu has many talents. Why isn’t he fit for government office?”

Will recruitment ever become a fully-automated process? One in which your magical AI assistant already has the perfect candidate lined up for you even before you have decided to hire someone new.

For some entry-level jobs with a narrow set of recruitment criteria I’m sure that it will become standard practice, not least because AI will reduce the cost of sifting through hundreds if not thousands of application forms and resumes. Indeed, a lot of systems already exist that can automatically weed out unqualified applicants.

For more senior positions, however, I’m not so sure. It’s going to take a while before AI systems will be able to evaluate “softer” attributes such as creativity, initiative, empathy, ability to work under great stress, and cultural fit with your organization. Even then, I doubt that the technology will fully replace the power of informal human networks. Who better to talk to if you are looking to fill a particularly demanding role than a person you know and respect? They will be able to give you the specialist insights that are beyond the reach of even the most sophisticated AI.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 8 of Book 6 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 6 here.

(1) After Ji Kangzi became chief minister of the state of Lu in 492 BCE, he relied on Confucius’s follower Ran Qiu as a key advisor. When Ji finally invited Confucius to return home eight years after taking up the position, he did occasionally seek counsel from the elderly sage on affairs of state (even if he didn’t necessarily listen to it).

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

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

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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.