Leadership lessons from Confucius: people’s flaws

people's faults

子曰:「人之過也,各於其黨。觀過,斯知仁矣。」
Confucius said: “People’s flaws reveal the type of person they are. By observing someone’s flaws, you’ll understand the true extent of their goodness.”

By all means listen to what other people have to say, but it’s only when you quietly observe what they actually do that you will understand their true character.

Does your sales manager take it on the chin when he misses his targets or does he blame his team members or other departments for not making his numbers? Does your favorite movie star or TV personality spend their time virtue signaling their support on Twitter for the latest social justice causes while making their staff break down into tears at their temper tantrums and outrageous demands? And does the leader of your country call for decency and fairness while throwing Nokia phones against the wall whenever someone does something not to their liking?

Perhaps, too, there have also been a few occasions of late when your own actions haven’t exactly lived up to your fine words or high opinion of yourself. When you’ve snapped at a barista for being a little slow in preparing your latte, to take an entirely fictitious example, or sent off an ill-tempered email that could have waited until you were feeling in a better mood to add another one.

So yes, by all means observe other people’s flaws – but only after taking a closer look at your own first.

Note

This article features a translation of Chapter 7 of Book 4 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 4 here.

I took this image at the Taipei Confucius Temple.

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