Leadership lessons from Confucius: position power

Temple of Yan Hui: position power

Ji Kangzi asked: “What should I do to make the people respectful, loyal, and diligent? Confucius said: “Treat them with dignity, and they will be respectful. Be filial to your parents and kind to the young, and they will be loyal. Promote those who are capable and teach those who are not, and they will be diligent.” (1)

Position power will only get you so far. No matter how grand your title is, people will only show you respect if you treat them in the same way. They will only show you loyalty if you act in the same manner. They will only work hard if you reward high performance and provide opportunities for everyone to achieve the same level.

If you walk the walk, in other words, people will be happy to follow you. But if you only talk the talk, they will find ways of ignoring you.


This article features a translation of Chapter 20 of Book 2 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 2 here.

(1) Ji Kangzi (季康子) was the chief minister of the state of Lu during most of Duke Ai’s reign. Although in theory he answered to Duke Ai, the hereditary ruler of Lu, in practice Ji was the true power behind the throne. Confucius often criticizes Ji in the Analects for placing the interests of the so-called Three Families that really ran the state of Lu above those of hereditary ruling house and the common people. His main point in this passage is that Ji has no right to expect the common people to show loyalty and respect to him because he shows no loyalty or respect to the ruler of the state.

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

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