Leadership Lessons from Confucius: the demeanor effect

Beijing Temple of Confucius

孟武伯問孝。子曰:「父母唯其疾之憂。」
Meng Wubo asked about filial devotion. The Master said: “The only time a son should make his parents worried is when he is sick.” (1)

As a leader, you need to be aware of the effect that your demeanor has on the people around you. If you appear to be in a bad temper, they will instantly be on their guard and may even become concerned that you’re angry because of something they’ve done when it’s entirely unrelated.

If you appear calm, however, they will feel at ease and get on with their work because they’ll see that everything is under control. Better still, a quick smile of encouragement can help make their day. Even if you are having a bad one, it doesn’t mean that everyone else should as well!

The same principle applies to your behavior. If you’re acting out of sorts, people will wonder what’s going on with you and start worrying unnecessarily. Whenever the pressure gets too much for you, relax and take a deep breath. Your job as a leader is to give the people around you confidence that everything is moving in the right direction so that they can focus on their work. If you make it difficult for them to do this, you’ll be letting them – and yourself – down.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 6 of Book 2 of The Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 2 here.

(1) Meng Wubo (孟武伯) was the son of Meng Yizi (孟懿子), who was featured in Chapter 5 of Book 2.

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Beijing.

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