When Ran Yong was serving as a steward of the Ji Family, he asked about governance. Confucius said: “First appoint your senior officials. Forgive small mistakes. Promote people of talent.” Ran Yong asked: “How do I recognize that someone has talent and deserves to be promoted?” Confucius said: “Promote those you know. Those you don’t know will not be passed over.”
In the same way that he felt a leader should not be a mere “vessel” or technician, Confucius also thought that the leader’s role was not to micromanage the work of his subordinates but to make sure that they discharged their duties in the correct manner.
It was fine therefore to overlook the odd minor mistake or two on the part of an official who was carrying out his responsibilities with the right spirit and attitude. That was all part of the learning process.
When advising Ran Yong to “promote those you know”, he was referring to people who shared his values and whose strengths and weaknesses he fully understood – in other words, one he could trust to diligently execute their assigned tasks. Not a bad principle to go by in building up a strong organization culture that nurtures talent.
By the way, this is the final appearance of the disciple Yan Rong in the Analects. You can read more about him here.