Analects of Confucius Book 2: Confucius on leadership qualities


In Book 2 of the Analects, Confucius continues his exploration of the qualities required by a leader (君子/jūnzǐ).

He kicks off this search in 2.12 with his famous observation that “a leader isn’t a vessel.” By this he means that a leader’s role is not simply to passively absorb information and experience but to actively sift and share it with the members of your team so that they can develop their abilities and knowledge and more effectively. 

The ability to bring people together by thinking and acting objectively is another key quality of a leader. In 2.14, Confucius hammers home this point when he says, “A leader creates unity without taking sides.” In contrast, “A petty person takes sides without creating unity.”

In 2.15, he goes on to emphasize the importance of critical thinking in order to make clear and objective decisions: “Learning without thinking leads to perplexity. Thinking without learning leads to trouble.” In the next chapter, he stresses the need for a holistic approach to this process by warning: “Focusing your attention only on the extremes will lead to nothing but harm.”

Strong critical thinking skills developed through rigorous study and careful analysis are therefore essential in a leader. Without a thorough grounding in fundamental principles and values, it is impossible for you to analyze any particular situation you may encounter and respond to it appropriately.

Living up to your commitments is the final attribute of a leader that Confucius points to in Book 2. When his follower Zigong asks him about the nature of leadership in 2.13, he replies: “First accomplish what you want to say and then say it.”

The ability to talk the talk only gets you so far; to become a true leader, you also have to be able to walk the walk. 

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