Leadership Lessons from Confucius: talent management

Confucius said: “As for Zang Wenzhong, didn’t he steal his position? Although he knew of Liuxia Hui’s worthiness, he refused to have him as a colleague.”

Never stand in the way of a rising talent. Your job is to clear the path for them so that they can make the most of their potential. Even if you do succeed in blocking them in the short term, chances are that you will not be able to keep them in place for long and they will take their abilities elsewhere.

This article features a translation of Chapter 14 of Book 15 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 15 here.

(1) In this passage Confucius is criticizing Zang Wenzhong for refusing to promote Liuxia Hui after Liuxia successfully completed a diplomatic mission to the state of Qi in 634 BCE. Zang had sent Liuxia to Qi to persuade its ruler to call off a planned military expedition against Lu. It has been suggested that Zang was either jealous of Liuxia or, like most senior ministers in Chinese history, felt it would be shameful to promote a subordinate to the same level that he held in the government. See 14.18 for a rare example of such an event happening.

Zang Wenzhong and Liuxia Hui were both members of great noble families in Confucius’s home state of Lu. Confucius was not a fan of Zang Wenzhong. In 5.18, he criticizes Zang for having the temerity to house a pet tortoise in an elaborate pavilion. Many of the sage’s contemporaries had a much more favorable opinion of Zang, however, regarding him as a highly talented and fair-minded minister.

Liuxia Hui is the posthumous name for Zhan Qin. In addition to being recognized as a capable official, he was famous for the great virtue he showed in saving a young lady from the freezing cold by embracing her for a whole night without doing anything improper.

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.