“To guide a state of one thousand chariots, be respectful in your handing of affairs and display trustworthiness; be frugal in your expenditures and cherish others; and employ the common people at the proper times.”

Beyond the obvious fact that we don’t drive chariots today, there is plenty here that is applicable. Most of this is pretty straightforward. In leading any number of people we should be:

  • Respectful
  • Trustworthy
  • Frugal
  • Cherish Others

From any kind of organizational perspective these principles are great guidelines in dealing with people. Heck, beyond leading, it’s great advice for life. Be respectful to other people like the old man on the train, the young man with his headphones on blaring music loud enough for you to hear every derogatory word. Be trustworthy of your friends when they tell you an important secret over a cup of coffee, a glass of wine. Don’t spend more than you have to on unnecessary items (do you really need that extra pair of shoes? I know they’re really cute). And of course, always show gratitude–a kind word, a note of encouragement, a gift.

All of that, great life wisdom.

But what really stands out to me here is the final line about employing the common people at the proper times. In ancient China the state would employ the common people in public construction projects, pulling them away from their personal agricultural responsibilities. The time they spent on these projects would in turn mean that they would have less to eat because less of their crops survived.

A common interpretation that historians have agreed upon is that the demands of employing the common people should be timed so that it would not interfere with their farming. Makes sense right? If they’re not farming, they’re not eating. If they’re not eating, they’re not happy at all. A good leader makes sure their people are happy.

I like to think of us all as common people no matter what our position in life, no matter what our yearly income, or car we drive. When we make demands of the people around us, are we timing them well? Are we asking them to do things that are not convenient, a major imposition? There’s a difference between knowing what will allow  a friend, subordinate, employee to grow, and crushing them with a burden that they can’t bear.

Truth is that there are limits to what people will do and a mindful leader is aware of what those limits are. Be mindful of what your demands are and of the people you make demands of and I promise that everyone will be a lot happier. 

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