Leadership lessons from Confucius: first impressions count

first impressions count

When carrying a jade tablet, he bowed as if it was too heavy to lift. When he held it high, he looked as if he was going to give a greeting; when he held it low he looked as if he was going to make an offering. He adopted a solemn expression as if he was going off into battle, and he walked in short measured steps as if he was following a straight line. When participating in a ritual ceremony, he looked dignified. When in a private meeting, he looked happy and relaxed.

First impressions count. Dress appropriately for the occasion you are attending and know the expected protocol down pat before you arrive at it.  Approach your hosts with a calm and friendly but business-like air. By projecting a polished and confident demeanor, you will win them over even before you start to talk to them. They will see that you are every bit as committed to the success of the occasion as they are, and welcome you accordingly.


This article features a translation of Chapter 5 of Book 10 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 10 here.

(1) Carrying a jade tablet refers to being on some kind of official business, such as representing a ruler as his envoy on a diplomatic mission to another state. The tablet was regarded as a symbol of the ruler’s prestige and authority.

(2) Given that there are no records of Confucius ever having represented the Duke of Lu on a diplomatic mission, it’s almost certain that the text of 10.5 was culled from a long-lost ritual manual.

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

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