Leadership lessons from Confucius: on integrity

Temple of Yan Hui: integrity

Duke Ai asked: “What should I do to win the support of the people?” Confucius replied: “Promote the upright and place them above the crooked, and the people will support you. Promote the crooked and place them above the upright, and the people will not support you.” (1) (2)

What criteria do you use to select people for leadership positions in your organization? Talent is critical of course. So too is a strong track record of delivering results. Excellent interpersonal and communication skills are also vital. The list is endless.

However, the single most important attribute for someone in a leadership position is integrity. If a leader lacks a moral compass, the culture of their team or organization will quickly rot as its members learn that the best way of getting ahead is through ethical shortcuts. As the standards of integrity start to drop, staff, customers, suppliers, and other partners will lose their faith in the organization and it will enter  a downward spiral.

Integrity is much more than a corporate slogan. It’s the very core of an organization. There should be no place for people who ignore or deny its importance.


This article features a translation of Chapter 19 of Book 2 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 2 here.

(1) Duke Ai (魯哀公) was the hereditary ruler of the state of Lu from 494 BCE to 467 BCE. Confucius is criticizing him in this passage for his failure to promote virtuous officials to top government positions in place of the corrupt ones from the Three Families who were the de facto power holders in his home state.

(2) This passage is probably a later addition to the text because it refers to Confucius as Master Kong (孔子/ Kǒngzǐ) rather than the much more common Master (子/zǐ)

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

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