Leadership Lessons from Confucius: military formations and ritual vessels

Duke Ling of Wei asked Confucius about military formations. Confucius replied: “Although I have experience in handling ritual vessels, I have never studied military matters.” He left the next day.
衛靈公問陳於孔子,孔子對曰:「俎豆之事,則嘗聞之矣;軍旅之事,未之學也。」明日遂行。

No matter how attractive a job offer may appear to be on the surface, always be sure to dig deep in the interview to make sure that the position is the right fit for you. There is always the danger that the specifications provided to you by the company are not completely in sync with the needs or agenda of the person who is hiring you.

Better to find out that the post requires someone with expertise in military formations rather than handling ritual vessels before you make the move than after it. The consequences of learning too late that the role was not quite what it was made out to be could be disastrous.

Notes
This article features a translation of Chapter 1 of Book 15 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 15 here.

(1) Wei was the first state Confucius went to after leaving Lu in 496 BCE. He was very keen to find a high-level position in the government, going as far as to risk a scandal by attending a private audience with Duke Ling’s notorious consort Nanzi.

When Confucius did finally manage to secure a meeting with Duke Ling himself, it did not take him long to realize that the duke was only interested in hiring him to launch a military campaign against the state of Jin to capture his son Kuaikui, who had fled there after a failed attempt to assassinate Nanzi. Not wishing to get involved in such a sordid family affair, Confucius felt he had no choice but to leave the state of Wei for fresh pastures.

This proved to be a costly decision because Confucius ended up spending fourteen years on the road (including at least one return visit to Wei) without ever finding the senior official job he craved. On the other hand, it is highly unlikely that he would have lasted long as a minister amid the vicious internal power struggles that were afflicting Wei as the duke approached his death.

I took this image at the Mencius Cemetery in Qufu.

--

--

--

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

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

How Leaders Can Use Moods and Emotions Effectively

Emotional Intelligence for Leaders

Purpose is the power to re-energise

Leadership Lessons from Confucius: an expense or an investment?

GroSum TopTalk- Henry Stewart, Founder and Chief Happiness Officer, Happy Ltd.

To Get Comfortable With Delegation, Hire The Right People

Understand Lean Transformation in 5 minutes

Mentoring: How to Lift Others Up As You Ascend

Demise of the Agile Coach

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Richard Brown

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.

More from Medium

Dealing With Changing Trends in Social Studies Curriculum

Rationality is a process, not a personality trait.

Fact or Fake?

Platitudes and Dr. King

Boris Johnson: The Mascot of British Populism