Leadership lessons from Confucius: appearances matter

appearances matter

Confucius said: “I’ve never met anyone who loves virtue as much as sensual beauty.”

Don’t delude yourself: appearances matter. If you can’t be bothered to dress for the role you’re being interviewed for, why should your prospective employer be bothered to hire you? If a company that’s trying to do business with you can’t be bothered to have a clean and attractive website, why should you be bothered to give them an order?

Of course, appearances aren’t everything – but they can go a long way in projecting a sense of confidence and competence to others.


This article features a translation of Chapter 18 of Book 9 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 9 here.

(1) According to Sima Qian in the Records of the Historian (9.18), Confucius was inspired to make this lament during his visit to the state of Wei in 496 BCE in the hope of securing a position with its notorious ruler, Duke Ling. Rather than imbibing the wisdom of the sage on a carriage ride, the duke decided to sit with his consort, the equally notorious Nanzi (南子). This was a huge breech of ritual etiquette, perhaps even a deliberate insult, that left Confucius fuming alone in the carriage behind the happy couple. Not surprisingly, Confucius left the state of Wei soon afterwards having failed to find suitable employment. You can read more about the colorful life of Nanzi here.

(2) Confucius is clearly expressing his exasperation at the decadence of his contemporaries, who valued the physical pleasures of the flesh over the more intangible joys of virtue. His (rather optimistic) wish was that people would love virtue as instinctively and enthusiastically as sensuality.

(3) This passage is repeated in 15.13.

I took this image at the Temple of Confucius in Yilan, Taiwan. You can read more about the rather convoluted history of this temple in this excellent article by Josh Ellis here.

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