Leadership lessons from Confucius: kindness and respect

kindness and respect

Someone asked Confucius: “Sir, why don’t you take part in government?” Confucius replied: “In the Book of Documents it says: ‘By being filial to your parents and being kind to your brothers, you’re already contributing to the smooth running of the government.’ Since I’m already doing this, why do I need to take part in government?” (1)

You don’t need to have an official title in order to assume a leadership position in your organization or community. By being kind and considerate towards the people around you, you will soon be able to gain their trust and confidence. The more you show that you appreciate the suggestions and feedback they give you, the more they will appreciate the suggestions and feedback you give them.

Showing kindness and respect for everyone around you shouldn’t be seen as a mere tactic for getting ahead. It’s an attitude that should be nurtured as an integral part of your character and behavior that Confucius believed should be grounded in strong family values.

Yes, I know that there are occasions when your patience will be tested to the limit. But better to remain positive rather than damage your relationships with people you care about through an unseemly display of temper.


This article features a translation of Chapter 21 of Book 2 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 2 here.

(1) The Book of Documents (書經/shūjīng) is one of the Five Classics that Confucius is believed to have edited. It features speeches and records of historical events dating as far back as the eleventh century BCE. Ironically, probably because it has undergone extensive revisions during its long existence, existing versions of the text don’t contain the saying that Confucius quotes in this chapter.

Another image of the Temple of Yan Hui in Qufu. You can read more about it here.

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