Leadership lessons from Confucius: look inside and examine yourself

look inside

子曰:「見賢思齊焉,見不賢而內自省也。」
Confucius said: “When you meet people of exceptional character, think how you can become their equal. When you meet people of poor character, look inside and examine yourself.”

There’s a lot you can learn from observing the behavior and character of the people around you. The best among them can act as a positive role model showing you how to become more confident in how to conduct yourself, more purposeful in the way you go about your daily business, and kinder and more tolerant in how you treat others.

The worst among them can act as a negative role model showing you how not to lead your life and highlighting the behaviors and attitudes that you need to focus on improving. There’s nothing like watching a loud obnoxious drunk slobbering by the bar or an angry red-faced boss bawling out some poor subordinate for a minor oversight to wake you up to the dangers of imbibing too much alcohol or power!

Best not to gloat over such people’s failings, however. Use the examples they provide as an opportunity to “look inside and examine yourself” in order to identify your own excesses and weaknesses. Perhaps there have times in your past when you haven’t exactly covered yourself in glory. Or perhaps that short temper that is lurking inside you will erupt when you least expect it to.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 17 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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