Confucius’ management creed

By Dr. Henry Wong Meng Yeong | Wednesday, July 10, 2013 at 1:08AM

We have over the past few months examined the word integrity, which is an amalgamation of traits that guide behavior in all circumstances. We have looked at the definition of integrity with the eight virtues or cornerstones as a guide. These cornerstones are central to the teaching of Confucius and these virtues are to be taken in totality for one to approach the status of 君子 (junzi), which is a gentry of noble character and conduct which Confucius aimed to nurture and establish.

The “Art of War” taught in every management school has been generally accepted as the oriental approach to management. It was written by Sun Zi (who lived about the same time as Confucius) as a military manual and is about defeating one’s enemies and winning wars. This has attained fame and has made its way into the pantheon of management and business strategy.

In contrast, the management creed proposed by Confucius begins with development of one’s values and principles, to which he devoted his life, nurturing a peerage of noble character and conduct or 君子. The opposite of which is 小人 (petty man). Confucius, when asked by his students to explain what he meant by 君子, gave different answers. Why? Because he was aware of his students' individual shortcomings and knew what it took for each of them to achieve the goal of self actualization -- namely, the attainment of fulfillment and one’s full potential with integrity and ultimately happiness.

According to the hierarchy of needs proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation," self actualization is at the pinnacle of the pyramid and is achieved after the primary needs (physiological, financial, emotional etc.) are met. If meeting needs (which is often indistinguishable from wants) is the prerequisite to self actualization, compromising one’s principles by behaving corruptly to achieve one’s needs (or wants) would occur especially for one who is not instilled with values.

Confucius on the other hand placed no such preconditions of meeting needs for one to become a self actualized 君子. On the contrary, his doctrine is diametrically opposite and puts Maslow’s pyramid on its head. He placed self actualization as the primary goal. When the self actualized principled 君子 is fulfilled, the other needs are then of secondary importance. Hence Confucius taught that if riches and fame cannot be attained by righteous principles, one is better off without them. Conversely, if one cannot climb out of poverty and destitution by honest means, one is better off being poor. The emphasis is not on needs (or wants) but on principles.

The discussion continues……