Leadership lessons from Confucius: reaching the point of despair

point of despair

子曰:「誰能出不由戶?何莫由斯道也?」
Confucius said: “Who would leave a house except through the gateway? Why is it that nobody follows the way?” (1)

It’s inevitable that there’ll be times when you reach the point of despair when you are leading a challenging new project. If there aren’t, then it probably means that you aren’t pushing yourself far enough out of your comfort zone.

At such times, there’s no point in blaming others for failing to buy into your vision no matter how compelling it appears to you. It’s far more useful to listen to their concerns and address them as best you can.

Even if you fail to allay their concerns, that’s no reason for you to stop. If you truly believe in what you’re doing, keep on plowing ahead. As momentum behind the project grows, the people who were reluctant to follow will eventually catch up or others will join you.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 17 of Book 6 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 6 here.

(1) It’s not surprising that Confucius occasionally felt sorry for himself because of his failure to persuade the most prominent figures of his age to adopt his teachings – or hire him as their chief minister. One of his great weaknesses, however, was that he never stopped to ask himself the reason for this. Perhaps if he had shown more of the modesty and humility that he suggested others should adopt, he might have gained a much stronger following during his lifetime.

I took this image at the Temple of Mencius in Zoucheng, a small town near to Qufu. You can read more about it here.

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