Leadership lessons from Confucius: your four strongest personal qualities

personal qualities

Confucius said of Zichan: “He had four essential qualities of a leader: in his personal conduct he was gracious; in serving his superiors he was respectful; in caring for the common people he was generous; in employing them for public service he was just.”

What are your four strongest personal qualities? This is an important – if perhaps uncomfortable – question to ask yourself. Do you conduct yourself with grace and courtesy? Are you respectful not just towards your bosses but to everyone you come into contact with – including the harried witness who is slow in bringing your dinner to you in a crowded and noisy restaurant? Are you generous in both spirit and material support to people in your community? And care to make sure that your staff don’t feel they have to sacrifice their family and social life to meet your exacting demands?

Rather than just asking yourself this question, why not find out from the people closest to you what they think your four strongest personal qualities are? That way you can learn how your perceptions of yourself map with those that your nearest and dearest have formed about you. Such a step is not for the faint-hearted of course; for the sake of future harmony, it should probably also be conducted anonymously as well. But if you are brave enough to take it, there’s a very good chance you’ll get some invaluable feedback on how you can improve yourself.


This article features a translation of Chapter 16 of Book 5 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 5 here.

(1) Zichan (子產) was renowned for the brilliance of his leadership as the chief minister of the state of Zheng (鄭) from ca. 544 BCE until his death in ca. 521 BCE. Confucius was a great admirer of him and is said to have wept when he heard of his death. You can learn more about Zichan here.

I took this image at the Tainan Confucius Temple.

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