Leadership lessons from Confucius: keep on learning

keep on learning

子曰:「已矣乎!吾未見能見其過,而內自訟者也。」
Confucius said: “I give up! I have yet to meet a person capable of seeing their own faults and taking themselves to task in the court of their own heart.”

It’s easy enough to sit around criticizing other people and telling the world what they’re doing wrong. All of us like to think they would be able to do a much better job than our boss, the coach of the sports team we support, and the politicians crawling around the swamp.

It’s so much harder, though, to take a close look at yourself and recognize your own flaws and weaknesses. Why go through the hassle of personal introspection, when you can turn your critical eye towards others?

Building up a capacity for self-reflection is at the core of Confucius’s teachings about becoming a leader. That doesn’t mean beating yourself up about every little mistake you make – but having the honesty to identify the weaknesses that you need to address and take the necessary measures to resolve them.

In contrast to so many gurus, Confucius doesn’t offer any magical five-step formulas to turbo-charge your journey along the path of enlightenment. He doesn’t promise any rewards at the end of it either. All he asks is that you keep on learning more about yourself and the world around you every day and cultivate your character and behavior so that you can make it a better place.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 27 of Book 5 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 5 here.

I took this image at the Tainan Confucius Temple.

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