All Leaders Need a Wei Zheng

Published on 2013-09-26

Source: archer10 (Dennis)  @ Flickr

IN THE TANG DYNASTY, Emperor Li Shi Min had an advisor called Wei Zheng. In the past, Wei Zheng used to work for the Emperor’s enemy, but even with this coloured past the Emperor knew Wei Zheng was a talent and could help him in managing the country.

Unlike the other officials in his cabinet, Wei Zheng did not consider himself a “loyal subordinate”, but only an official who could help the Emperor make right decisions. Many times, often to the shock of the rest of the cabinet, Wei Zheng challenged the Emperor’s decisions and pointed out the negative consequences. More shockingly, this feedback was often given in public and the  Emperor lost face and even wanted to kill Wei Zheng. However, Wei Zheng was not intimated, and continued to present different opinions knowing that it was what was best for the Emperor and the kingdom.
Then one year the Emperor decided to start a war with a neighbouring kingdom. Wei Zheng objected strongly, but he was the lone voice of disagreement. The other officials dared not say anything, since they saw that the Emperor had made up his mind. The Emperor ignored Wei Zheng and started the war, but in the end their own kingdom was defeated and it took the Emperor several years to recover the kingdom’s economy. The Emperor regretted not listening to Wei Zheng.
Sometime later, when Wei Zheng died of illness, the Emperor made it clear that the kingdom had lost a great adviser.
Positive comments encourage others and make others feel good. However, in business providing only positive feedback is dangerous because it can lead to blind spots. Without a Wei Zheng of your own, who can provide alternative or quite often “negative” feedback, decisions can be less thought through and surprises more likely. So learn from Emperor Li Shi Min, and ask your advisors to “忠言逆耳利于行”; or provide honest words that may sound harsh, but provide a benefit.