Leadership lessons from Confucius: look, listen, and learn

Temple of Yan Hui: look, listen, and learn

子曰:「視其所以,觀其所由,察其所安。人焉廋哉?人焉廋哉?」
The Master said: “Watch what they do, observe how they do it, and examine what makes them feel content. How then can they conceal their true self? How then can they conceal their true self?”

Take a close look at the people you work with. Their actions and demeanor speak much louder than the words they speak. Are they approaching their jobs with genuine enthusiasm and passion or are they simply going through the motions? Are they trying to impress you so that they can get ahead or are they truly focused on the task at hand?

While there may be a grain truth in the saying that you have to fake it to make it, this only ever works out in the short term. The better you get to know someone, the more you get to learn their true character and motivations.

As a leader, you have responsibility to know what drives your people and their strengths and limitations. If you notice that someone isn’t putting their heart into their work, you need to figure out how to fix it. Perhaps the answer is more training, a job reassignment, a challenging new project, or an extended vacation. Or perhaps it’s coming to the decision that they will find a better fit in another organization. The more you know about the person, the better the solution will be for all parties involved.

There is only so much that you can learn about people by reading reports and spreadsheets on your computer screen. Get up from your desk and go to where it’s all happening. Look, listen, and learn.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 10 of Book 2 of The Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 2 here.

Another image of the Temple of Yan Hui in Qufu. I can’t recommend this place enough. You can read more about it here.

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