Leadership lessons from Confucius: appearances can be deceptive

appearances can be deceptive

Confucius said: “When the way prevailed in his state, Ning Wuzi acted wise. When his state lost the way, Ning Wuzi acted dumb. Others may match his wisdom but not his dumbness.”

Appearances can be deceptive. Just because someone acts differently than the other members of your team, it doesn’t mean that they are any less effective. Perhaps they simply prefer to work alone or do their best thinking away from the noise of the office. Judge them by the results they achieve, not by how they fit in. The most gregarious people are not necessarily the best performers.


This article features a translation of Chapter 21 of Book 5 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 5 here.

(1) Ning Wuzi (甯武子) was chief minister under two rulers of the state of Wei (衛)during the seventh century BCE. Serving under the first one, Duke Wen (衛文公), Ning proved to be a wise and effective administrator. But after Duke Wen was succeeded by Duke Cheng (衛成公) in 634 BCE, the state started to fall apart thanks to the chaotic rule of the new duke and the looming threat of invasion from the powerful neighboring state of Jin (晉). The only way that Ning could hold everything together over the course of ten years was by acting dumb to mask his true intentions. Confucius is thus speaking ironically when he remarks: “Others may match his wisdom but not his dumbness.” You can read more about Ning Wuzi here.

I took this image at the Tainan Confucius Temple.

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