Leadership Lessons from Confucius: in the zone
Confucius asked Gongming Jia about Gongshu Wenzi: “Is it true that your master never spoke, laughed, nor took anything?” Gongming Jia replied: “Whoever told you this exaggerated. My master spoke, but only at the right time, and so no one ever thought he spoke too much; he laughed, but only when he was happy, and so no one ever thought that he laughed too much; he took things, but only when it was right, and so no one ever thought that he took too much.” Confucius said: “How commendable! Assuming of course it is true.”
How to get yourself into the zone where everything you say, do, and touch turns to gold? Even the greatest athletes and artists in the world only manage to achieve a state of peak performance on the rarest of occasions. For most of the time, they are busy fine-tuning their skills, bodies, and minds in preparation for that magical moment when they hit the perfect home run or create their masterpiece.
The same principle applies to all aspects of life. Getting into the zone requires rigorous self-cultivation and self-reflection so that you are totally at ease with yourself and the environment around you. No wonder Confucius is so surprised to hear that Gongshu Wenzi had achieved such a heightened state. Even the sage himself didn’t claim to have reached this state until the age of seventy (2.4).
This article features a translation of Chapter 13 of Book 14 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 14 here.
(1) Gongshu Wenzi (Gongshu the Cultured) was the posthumous title given to Gongsun Ba/Gongsun Zhu, a highly respected minister of Wei and a son of its ruler Duke Xian. Despite his doubts of Gongming Jia’s claims about his master, Confucius agrees in 14.18 that Gongshu deserved this honor.
(2) Gongming Jia was a high-ranking official of the state of Wei, who presumably also worked as a retainer for Gongshu Wenzi.
I took this image at the Temple of the Duke of Zhou in Qufu. The duke was Confucius’s great hero and role model as a result of his tireless efforts to the establish the foundation of the fledgling kingdom of Zhou while acting as regent to his nephew, the young King Cheng.