Leadership Lessons from Confucius: actions speak louder than words

actions speak louder than words

子曰:「古者言之不出,恥躬之不逮也。」
Confucius said: “The ancients were reluctant to speak, fearing disgrace if their actions didn’t match their words.” (1)

Oh for the good old days when everyone’s word was their bond and people only opened their mouths after carefully considering what they were going to say!

Except of course the chances are that Confucius’s beloved ancients weren’t anywhere near as discrete as he would have liked us to believe and were just as prone to making boastful claims and empty promises as we are today. The big advantage they had compared even to Confucius’s contemporaries was that virtually nobody was around to record their utterances and save them for posterity to rake over.

Leaving aside the questionable historical accuracy of Confucius’s comments, there’s no denying the validity of the advice he gives. All of us would do well to remember the adage that actions speak louder than words and make sure that we are able to deliver on our commitments before we give them.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 22 of Book 4 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 4 here.

(1) The Analects is littered with admonitions from Confucius about the need to speak sincerely and avoid flattery and fakery,  including Chapter 3 of Book 1, Chapter 5 of Book 5, Chapter 3 of Book 12,  Chapter 4 of Book 16, and Chapter 7 of Book 17. It also features several riffs from him on the theme of actions speak louder than words. Chapter 10 of Book 2 provides an excellent example.

I took this image at the Taipei Confucius Temple.

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