Duke Ai asked: “What should I do to win the support of the people?” Confucius replied: “Promote the ethical and place them above the unethical, and the people will support you. Promote the unethical and place them above the ethical, and the people will not support you.”
Ji Kangzi asked: “What should I do to make the people respectful, loyal, and eager to follow me? Confucius said: “Treat them with dignity, and they will be respectful. Show you are a good son and a loving father, and they will be loyal. Promote the good and teach those who lack ability, and they will be eager to follow you.”
Judging by the general mood of cynicism surrounding the modern governing elite, the quality of political leadership hasn’t improved at all in the 2,500 years since Confucius was alive.
The principles of effective leadership haven’t changed either: it’s as important as ever to lead by example by appointing “ethical” or “good” people to positions of power who will work for the common good rather than putting cronies in place who will act in their own narrow interests.
Sadly, the inability of the governing class to learn and apply such principles also hasn’t changed and the gap between them and the people they govern remains as wide as ever. No wonder people are becoming increasingly attracted to non-establishment figures such as Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn who promise to shake things up as they continue to lose confidence in the ability of their politicians to deliver on their promises.
Duke Ai was the hereditary ruler of Lu, but had no real power. Ji Kangzi was a member of the Ji clan, one of the Three Families that really ruled the state, and as chief minister was the true power behind the throne.