Leadership Lessons from Confucius: lip service

Beijing Confucius Temple: lip service

When Ziyou asked about filial devotion, Confucius said: “These days filial devotion simply means keeping your parents fed. But that’s also how dogs and horses are looked after. Unless you treat your parents respectfully, what’s the difference?”

While it’s important to meet people’s material needs by providing them with a good salary, benefits, and working environment, showing them appreciation and respect for their abilities and contributions to the organization is even more vital for building a strong and harmonious culture. People don’t come to work simply to make money; they also want to feel that they are a valued member of a team and forge close connections with the people they engage with both inside and outside the office.

Far too many organizations and managers pay lip service to this aspect of leadership, outsourcing the responsibility to fine words in their mission statement about people being their most important asset and, if retention rates are falling too fast, to the HR Department to bring in a few consultants to carry out a few token team-building courses to redress the issue.

On a societal level, too, we also pay far too much lip service to the need to look after our growing elderly population by outsourcing this duty to poorly-paid staff in distant care homes who are so badly run off their feet that they barely have time to say good day to them.

Let’s hope that Kai Fu-Lee is right in arguing that the emergence of new AI technologies and applications will open up new opportunities for us to show more care for each other – though given that even Confucius failed to move the needle in this regard I can’t say I’m too optimistic that this will turn out to be the case.


This article features a translation of Chapter 7 of Book 2 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 2 here.

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

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