Leadership Lessons from Confucius: seriousness of purpose

seriousness of purpose

Confucius said: “A leader who has no seriousness of purpose lacks dignity and a solid foundation for learning. Hold loyalty and trustworthiness as your highest principles; don’t make friends with people who are not your equal. When you make a mistake, don’t be afraid to correct yourself.” (1) (2)

Seriousness of purpose is critical in a leader. Without having a strong commitment to achieve your goal, how will you be able to put in the hard work necessary to accomplish it and to inspire other people to support you?

If your team members or staff have doubts about the strength of your commitment, you will find it impossible to build loyalty and trust among them. Why should they throw themselves into the deep end while your feet are still on the edge of the diving board?

It’s critical to select people who share your vision and values so that everyone can work towards a common goal. Better still, why not find ones who are more capable than you? Your role as a leader is to build the right team to achieve the goal – not to hold it back through your own insecurities and inadequacies.

If you make a mistake, and you inevitably will, have the courage to admit it and learn from it. The people around you won’t see it as a sign of weakness – but of strength. And they will respect you all the more for it.


This article features a translation of Chapter 8 of Book 1 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 1 here.

(1) The second half of this chapter is repeated in Chapter 25 of Book 9. See my commentary here.

(2) Some scholars argue that the character 忠 (zhōng) means “to do your utmost”. This interpretation is possible given the context.

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

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