Leadership lessons from Confucius: being the best you can be

being the best you can be

When the ruler instructed him to welcome guests to court, he assumed a serious expression on his face and walked at a rapid pace. He clasped his hands in front of his chest and bowed towards those standing beside him, turning to the left and the right, and made sure that his gown flowed backwards and forwards in perfect rhythm with the movements of his body. He approached the guests in quick, small steps, his sleeves fluttering like the wings of a bird. After seeing off the guests, he always returned to announce: “The guests have gone.”

No matter how menial the task you are given is, put your heart and soul into it. By being the best you can be, you transform the mundane into the magical and inject new energy and meaning into tired old processes and routines.

Greeting a guest has the potential to be so much more than a simple hello and a perfunctory shake of the hand. It could be the start of a beautiful friendship if you show you are willing to make the most of it.


This article features a translation of Chapter 3 of Book 10 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 10 here.

(1) 10.3 provides a description of the ritual for greeting important guests and emissaries from other states. Rather than carrying this out formulaically like so many of his contemporaries, Confucius completely immerses himself in the task in order to give the guests the appropriate welcome and send-off.

(2) It is likely that Confucius was instructed by the duke of Lu and members of the Three Families to greet honored guests because of his deep knowledge of ritual even if this wasn’t a part of his formal responsibilities.

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

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