Leadership Lessons from Confucius: the perfect messenger!

Qu Boyu sent a messenger to Confucius. Confucius sat together with him and asked: “How is your master?” The messenger replied: “My master wishes to reduce his faults, but he hasn’t succeeded yet.” The messenger left. Confucius said: “The perfect messenger! The perfect messenger!”

Everyone in your organization is an ambassador. Have you trained them to make sure they represent it in the appropriate manner? That does not just mean at formal events and meetings, but on the phone and social media. As personal and professional lives become ever more closely integrated, this is becoming an increasingly tough challenge. You need make your expectations very clear, so that people have no excuses for failing to meet them. If someone bridles against the limitations you set, remain firm. There are plenty of other opportunities that they can pursue elsewhere if they feel the standards are too strict.

This article features a translation of Chapter 25 of Book 14 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 14 here.

(1) Qu Boyu was a high-ranking official and scholar from the state of Wei, who was famous for his never-ending quest for self-improvement. Some commentators speculate that Confucius may have stayed with Boyu, who was nearly forty years older than him, during the time he spent in Wei — but there is no historical evidence to support this claim. With his final approving comments about the messenger, Confucius is likely praising Boyu indirectly for his unstinting efforts to improve himself and the positive effects his behavior has on those around him, though some commentators detect a hint of sarcasm in them. Without knowing the original context in which the exchange took place, it is impossible to know which interpretation is correct.

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.

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