Leadership Lessons from Confucius: rash promises

rash promises

有子曰:「信近於義,言可復也。恭近於禮,遠恥辱也。因不失其親,亦可宗也。」
Youzi said: “If your commitments conform to what is right, you will be able to keep your word. If your manners conform to the rites, you will be able to avoid shame and disgrace. Only if you associate with reliable people will you be successful.”

Making rash promises that you have no hope or intention of fulfilling is a sure way of eroding the trust that people have in you. You might be able to get away with it for a while through sheer force of personality or verbal dexterity, but eventually the chickens will come home to roost and your credibility will be destroyed.

Any commitments you make need to be arrived at after careful thought and deliberation rather than on the spur of the moment. You also need to make sure that they are underpinned by the right ethical values. Concern for revenues and profits needs to be balanced with social and environmental impact.

Treating people with courtesy and respect goes a long way in creating mutual trust and confidence. Once this is established, you have a firm foundation for building a team that you can rely not only to work effectively together but also to speak out if they think you are moving in the wrong direction.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 13 of Book 1 of The Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 1 here.

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Qufu. You can read more about it here.

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