Leadership lessons from Confucius: perfect harmony

perfect harmony

Confucius was talking about music with the music master of Lu. He said: “We can know this much about music: It begins with everyone trying to play together; when it gets in full swing it flows in perfect harmony, melody, and purity of tone until it reaches the end.”  (1) (2)

A leader is like the conductor of an orchestra. Your job is to make sure that no matter what their function is everyone comes together and works in perfect harmony to carry out a common mission.

Getting everyone to play the same tune is challenging to begin with. So too is making sure that they trust each other to hit the right notes. But once you achieve this, beautiful music flows of its own accord.


This article features a translation of Chapter 23 of Book 3 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 3 here.

(1) This is one of the most difficult passages in the Analects to translate. I hope I have captured the spirit if not the exact meaning of the words.

(2) Confucius was a great lover of traditional music. According to some accounts he was an accomplished musician himself and may have even composed music to accompany the verses in the Book of Songs. In Chapter 13 of Book 7 of the Analects, it is reported that he forgot the taste of meat for three months after a particularly beautiful performance of Shao music that he witnessed in the state of Qi.

I took this image at the Beijing Great Bell Temple. You can read more about it here.

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