Leadership lessons from Confucius: on trust

trust

子曰:「人而無信,不知其可也。大車無輗,小車無軏,其何以行之哉?」
The Master said: “I wouldn’t know what to do with someone whose word cannot be trusted. How would you drive a wagon without a yoke or a chariot without a crossbar?”

Trust is the key to all human relationships. It’s the thread that holds families, communities, and society together. It’s also the reason why we buy particular products, remain loyal to particular brands, vote for particular parties, and work for particular organizations.

If that trust is ever broken, even unintentionally, it’s very hard to restore it. That is why it is very important to make sure that you can deliver on the commitments you choose to make. If you fail to meet them, the credibility of you and your organization will be at stake.

Better to err on the side of caution. Rash promises and honeyed words have a nasty habit of coming back to bite you. You only have to look at the damage that Internet giants like Facebook are suffering as a result of growing concerns over data privacy. It will take a huge amount of work for them to stop people walking away.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 22 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. You can read more about it here.

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