Leadership lessons from Confucius: be slow to speak and prompt to act

slow to speak

子曰:「君子欲訥於言,而敏於行。」
Confucius said: “A leader should be slow to speak and prompt to act.”

Instead of talking about that great idea you have in your head, why not just go ahead and carry it out? Even if you don’t manage to succeed in achieving your original goal, you will learn a huge amount in the process and be better equipped to take on your next big challenge. After all, given that it’s never been cheaper and easier to prototype an idea for a business, product, or creative endeavor thanks to ubiquitous connectivity and myriad online tools and communities, what have you got to lose? Except perhaps some time that you would probably have spent lamenting the opportunities that you’ve missed in your life.

The same principle applies to organizations as well as individuals. By all means invest time and resources in investigating new market opportunities, but don’t let yourself become a victim of analysis paralysis or bureaucratic inertia. Rather than spending hundreds of hours crafting stunning spreadsheets and powerful PowerPoint slides filled with grandiose visions and optimistic targets, why not quietly implement a pilot project that will give you the real data you need to decide whether to expand the scale of the initiative?

No matter how great an idea may appear to be on paper or a computer screen, it has no value at all unless you have the courage to roll up your sleeves and see how it performs in the messy and unpredictable world that we live in. Confucius experienced more than his fair share of failures, but that only served to spur him further along the road to greatness.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 24 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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