Leadership lessons from Confucius: asking yourself the tough questions

tough questions

子曰:「德之不修,學之不講,聞義不能徒,不善不能改,是吾憂也。」
Confucius said: “Failure to nurture my virtue, failure to discuss what I have learned, failure to follow what I know to be right, and failure to correct my faults: these are the worries that plague me.”

Self-reflection requires asking yourself the tough questions that you don’t necessarily want to find a correct answer to.

Are you truly making yourself a better person by improving your skills, knowledge, and health? How are you going about achieving this? Have you clearly defined your goals and are you measuring your progress towards them? IoT and AI technologies are making it much easier to track your exercise, sleep, and diet. Are you making full use of these? Gauging improvements in skills and knowledge can be a trickier process, but you can always start with basic criteria like the number of books you read and the number of articles you publish.

Are you sharing your newfound knowledge with the people around you? By creating a simple measure of how you are doing this, you will become more conscious of the importance of getting different perspectives on your ideas and insights. Just don’t overshare with a barrage of emails packed with links to articles that people will never have time to read!

Are you living up to your ethical and behavioral values at work and at home? Do you snap at other people in the office when you are under pressure or get impatient with your kids at home because you are too tired to deal with them? Probably the best way of tracking this is by highlighting such incidents in a journal or spreadsheet that you update every night.

The same method might also be useful for noting down your faults and the steps you are taking to address them.

If this list appears to be overwhelming, remember that you don’t have to do everything at once. Indeed, if you attempt to do that your efforts are doomed to failure. Better to start by focusing on one or two issues that you need to address. Once you have become used to the process and achieved some level of success, you will find it much easier to add more items to your list.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 3 of Book 7 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 7 here.

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Changhua, Taiwan.

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